At this point, there are only a handful of teams that can even put up a good fight against the Miami Heat. I’m not even talking about winning. I’m talking about a modest fight.
The Chicago Bulls, after snapping Miami’s 27-game win streak on March 27, are one of those teams that can put up a fight and can potentially win said fight. Yes, even without Derrick Rose, they could potentially knock off the Heat should they meet in the playoffs. It won’t be in the first round, but a meeting in the conference finals isn’t out of the question.
The Heat do own a 2-1 season series edge over the Bulls with a fourth and final game scheduled for Sunday, April 14.
But the playoffs are different, and the Heat could struggle against the Bulls if they do these things right, like they did when they snapped their streak:
Move The Ball Quickly and Effectively
The Heat are prone to jumping in passing lanes to collect easy fast-break points and what not. Their opponents turn the ball over 14.2 times per game, which is the fifth-highest mark in the league. With LeBron James and Dwyane Wade acting as hawks, that gamble often pays off in fashion, and you know, makes ESPN. They are one of the few teams that can afford to make this gamble without looking foolish.
But enough of the gambling stuff. That’s not “true” defense and saying the Heat aren’t a “true” defensive team would be inaccurate and largely discriminant to the contributions of the unsung heroes, most notably Shane Battier, whose job description is simply playing defense and shooting 3-pointers. Simple, yet extremely effective is what you should be thinking.
If the Bulls move the ball on the perimeter quickly, that will cut down on Miami’s chances of intercepting passes and turning them into easy points on the other end. And this is no easy task, mind you. The Heat only allow 20.2 assists per game, which is the fifth-best mark in the NBA. When the Bulls snapped their 27-game winning streak, though, they compiled 27 assists.
Without a true penetrator, slicing and dicing the Heat is the best plan of attack.
I tend to think of Jimmy Butler as the X-factor to the Bulls hopes of beating the Heat. After all, he fits the bill of an X-factor as a defensive stopper and potential scorer.
Scoring is precisely what the Bulls need from Butler. When the Marquette product scores 15-plus points, the Bulls are 10-4. When he has a usage percentage north of 18, they’re 11-5. Seeing a trend? To cap it off, the Bulls have an offensive rating of 106 with Butler on the floor and an offensive rating of just 100 when he’s on the bench. Now, you should be seeing a trend.
Same goes for Deng, who isn’t a prolific scorer, but he can have his moments. He’s scored 20-plus points 22 times this year, but the important stat is the Bulls’ 6-1 record when he has a usage percentage of at least 27. I know, a usage percentage of 27 generally indicates that the said player has the hot hand, but isn’t that the point? It all reconnects back to the point: If Butler and Deng are rolling, there’s a good chance the Bulls are winning.
It’s also then probably no coincidence that Chicago’s top two lineups in terms of net rating consist of Butler and Deng, both for defense and offense.
Avoid An Early Collapse
An early collapse against the Heat spells doom. Miami averages the fifth-most first-quarter points in the NBA behind some of the league’s most efficient offenses. The Heat are one of those offenses, to be sure.
Falling behind early obviously would require playing the catch-up game, which is already hard enough regardless of the opponent. Against the Heat, the catch-up game is even harder because they go on 10-0, 12-0 and 15-0 runs to absolutely squash comebacks. Having LeBron James helps, too.
But again we turn back to that game on March 27 for more evidence: Chicago owned a 32-22 lead after one and a nine-point halftime lead. Naturally, the Heat starts tried to play hero ball and they failed.
Taking an early lead on Miami isn’t easy because LeBron can come out of the gate clicking and his teammates just feed off that momentum. If the Bulls can keep the score close after one quarter, though, they stand a pretty good chance.
Limit 3-Point Production
This comes across as a surprise to some people, but the Heat are the second-best 3-point shooting team in the NBA. They don’t take 28 3-pointers nightly, but when they do, they’re successful.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade aren’t considered 3-point shooters. There’s really no controversy there. But we probably can come to consensus that they’re volume shooters. They shoot 3-pointers to score their 25-plus points. While LeBron has improved from beyond the arc, his best bet is still driving and and kicking to Mario Chalmers or Ray Allen.
Against the Bulls, the Heat shot only 35 percent from downtown and managed two fewer 3-point attempts than their average.
Quieting Miami’s 3-point game won’t do much to stop their big guns. They will simply just force the issue with more penetration, which is probably a better plan of action anyway.
However, if Miami’s shooters are having off nights, it allows the extra defender to slide over and help on LeBron or whoever attacks the rim. Sure, leaving shooters open isn’t ideal in a perfect world, but it will have to be a decision based off of how the shooters are shooting in that game.