The Golden State Warriors will host arguably the most scrutinized team in NBA history on Friday night when the Miami Heat (15-8) come to town. Despite a slow start, the Heat seem to be rounding into form as they are the owners of a six game winning streak. After winning in Utah Wednesday night, Miami has the look of a team as opposed to the look of a bunch of talented individual players.
The most challenging aspect of this Heat team is the media coverage that surrounds it. They have been in the national spotlight for most of the season and consequently we keep hearing about the offensive troubles that this team must overcome to win ball games. But it seems that things are changing as of late.
Although the talk in recent weeks have centered around the fact that Miami’s 3 Unit had trouble sharing the ball; this Heat team is 13th in the league in scoring with 100.6 points per game. They run an efficient offense that shoots 47.3% from the floor (fifth in the league) and that averages 13.0 turnovers per game (best in the NBA).
Miami hurts opponents on offense by putting LeBron James in pick and rolls where they ask him to be aggressive with his own offense or to look for open teammates. Although the same is asked from Wade, as of late he is playing a bit more off the ball and given the rock in his favorite scoring spots on the floor.Given the fact that both players are such good scorers, they attract a lot of attention and force defenses to make adjustments to limit their scoring. The most frequent strategy teams have employed is to have defenders rotate off of Miami’s role players to contain the likes of Wade and James as they seek to attack the basket area. The end result is that teams are shutting down the paint.
Indeed, Miami is dead last in the NBA with 33.3 points per game in the paint according to Team Rankings.Mind you, with opposing defenses making such a concerted effort to close off the lanes, it opens up the floor for perimeter jump shots from the likes of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Chris Bosh, James Jones and Carlos Arroyo. Indeed, according to Hoopdata, the Miami Heat lead the league in attempted field goals from 16 to 23 feet (think free throw range and beyond) with 26 per game. They are shooting 43.6% from that range (third best in NBA) and 37.7% from three point range (ninth in NBA).
Once the defense loosens up (it becomes frustrating at some point for opponents to watch Jones nail wide open three point shots), that’s when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade get lanes to attack the basket and draw fouls. Miami is averaging 29.1 free throw attempts per game (third in NBA), most of which are taken by their perimeter stars (almost 18 free throw attempts combined). Also, the Heat might not get much fast break points (16th in the league), but once James and Wade break out in the open floor, you can practically count the two points. They do an excellent job of finding each other in transition for spectacular plays.
The forgotten man in all of this is Chris Bosh. Because his field goal attempts come from the perimeter (5.4 attempted field goals from 16-23 feet and 2.0 attempts from 10-15 feet), defenses tend to play him one on one for the most part. However, he has demonstrated the ability to score in the post and also to get fouled; thus completing the play of the other two Heat stars.
Although Miami’s offense has been good this season, it is still somewhat of a work in progress. Their defense on the other hand, has been their one constant so far this season. They might have had some lapses during the season but it is still their backbone.
Currently, the Heat are surrendering a mere 92.0 points per game (fourth in the NBA) on 43.2% field goal shooting (second in NBA). Much like their opponents do to them, the South Beach gang does a good job closing the off the lanes as evidenced by their 38.2 points per game allowed (eighth in the NBA). Conventional wisdom would have you think that teams shoot a good three point percentage against Miami but it is actually the contrary. The Heat force their opponents to kick out the ball to seemingly open three point shooters but then aggressively rotate to contest these shots and force misses. The result is that Miami is second in the NBA in defending the three as they allow 31.1% shooting from downtown.
However, there are points to be had from deep against Miami. Indeed, although they are good at limiting fast break opportunities (allowing 12.4 fast break points per game, good for eighth in the league); when they retreat on defense they typically run back to the paint, thus allowing shooters to set up shop at the three point line. A great point guard will find quick strike opportunities there.
Also, Miami defends the paint well on average, but good interior passing teams (such as Celtics, Lakers and Jazz to name a few) will have some success against their interior defense because the Heat are always anticipating the next pass and typically rotate fairly fast, which makes them susceptible to ball fakes.
But if one wishes to defeat the Heat, the recipe is simple: dominate the boards. On average, Miami does a decent job in the rebounding department as they outrebound their opposition on average by 1.9. However, during their six game win streak, they are getting 7.8 rebounds more than their opponents. Teams that dominate the boards usually dominate the paint; and that’s right up Golden State’s alley.
The Warriors are the fourth best offensive rebounding in the league and are eighth in the league in points scored in the paint per game. Couple that with Golden State’s hot shooting from deep (38.8% from deep, good for fourth in NBA)and well you can clearly see that Warriors might have a successful formula to defeat the Miami Heat.