Since the inception of the “Big 3″ Era in 2010, the Miami Heat have developed into one of the strongest outfits we’ve seen for a while. They have dominated the Eastern Conference the past three years and unless the Indiana Pacers or San Antonio Spurs can stop them, the 2012-13 squad will be lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the second consecutive year.
The question now is how do you defeat such a strong team?
Here’s five suggestions team should follow to have success.
5. Play team basketball
As far as I know, basketball is a team sport. And very, very rarely do you hear of a one-man team winning, especially in the National Basketball Association, where you meet the crème de la crème of basketball talent.
Well, Miami currently is the elite, sitting atop the NBA hierarchy due to their defending champion status. The only way to beat such a talented group of players is teamwork. Lots and lots of teamwork.
Tom Thibodeau’s Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls team managed to end the Heat’s winning streak in the regular season. And they even scared the champs a little bit in the second round of the playoffs, stealing Game 1 in South Beach even without Luol Deng. The reason being team basketball (and some tactics resembling those you might see in the WWE).
I don’t mean just sharing the ball offensively. I’m talking about all facets of the phrase, defending as a team, rebounding as a team, fighting as a team and thus winning as a team.
4. Let LeBron get his
Let’s face it, LeBron James is going to get his usual 20 to 30 points; that’s almost a certainty at this point. However, Miami is pretty much unstoppable when he’s finding the open man and getting other people involved.
Therefore, you let James go wild with the scoring and focus on stopping the rest of the team.
Don’t get me wrong, Miami is not a one-man team by any means–after all, they have at least two other players to worry about–but LeBron is the beating heart of the offense. And if he has to carry the whole offense on his own, the team struggles. Just look at his time in Cleveland when he was one-on-five offensively.
The numbers don’t lie either. During the regular season, when Miami won, LeBron James averaged 26.6 points per game (ppg), 7.6 assists per game (apg) and 17.3 shot attempts with the team racking up 24 apg.
In losses, James averaged 27.7 ppg, 5.9. apg and 20 shots a game. Also the team amassed a 26th-best 19 apg a game.
Long story short, more point-forward King James equals more wins for the Heat.
Granted the talent he has around him now is a heck of a lot better than in his Cavalier days, so it’s easier said than done–although Indiana is doing a pretty good job thus far, leaving LeBron isolated in the post to level the series at 2-2.
Then again not every team has a Paul George or the No. 1 overall defense in the Association.
James is scary good but not good enough to beat playoff teams 16 times on his own.
3. Pound the paint
Miami often turns to its “small” lineup which favors speed, 3-point shooting to space the floor and creating an offensive mismatch. All at the expense of pure, unadulterated size and power. Thus the weak spot in the middle.
We all know Chris Bosh is a power forward filling in as a center and James is an athletic freak of nature who can do it all, but they are not natural inside bangers.
Due to this, teams with strong bigs manning the paint can take advantage of that soft spot, as shown by Indiana so far.
Also, the Miami Heat ranked dead last in rebounds per game with 38.8 per contest in the regular season.
With that said, the midseason signing of Chris Andersen has been huge in reinforcing the middle of the paint and they did only give up the fifth-most rebounds in the regular season (40.1).
2. Protect the ball
Limiting turnovers is important; any Tom Dick and Harry can attest to that. Against the Miami Heat, however, that word takes on a whole new meaning. It becomes absolutely crucial.
In 2012-13, Miami was among the most disruptive defensive units, forcing a sixth-best 14.7 turnovers a game and a third-best 8.7 steals a game.
With the finishing prowess of Dwyane Wade and the freight-train-like LeBron James, you would think Miami would be leading the league in fast-break points, right? Not quite.
The Heat is just 20th in fast-break points with nearly 12 points a game. However, they do rank third in points off turnovers with an average of 18.6 a game.
They themselves are stingy with the ball, ranking in the top six in the fewest giveaways category and second in the fewest fast-break points allowed with 11.9 a game.
This means Miami is great at forcing turnovers and converting on consequential plays as well as being good at protecting the ball and defending their giveaways themselves.
1. Make the most of your chances
I know it sounds obvious but it’s that simple. Against a tough, elite defense like Miami’s, every chance matters. Because once they turn up the intensity, it’s almost as if there are more than five players out there.
Miami’s defensive rotation is arguably the best in the league due to the fact that they are well-drilled, but also because they have guys with high basketball IQs–especially on that end of the court, i.e. Shane Battier, James, Wade, Udonis Haslem and so on.
Even so, they are susceptible to defensive lapses and at times lack enthusiasm defensively, as illustrated by the number of slow starts and numerous comeback wins both in the regular and postseason. But it doesn’t always work out that well because Miami went 20-14 if they trailed after the first quarter.
However, they do have a tendency to come roaring back in the second half, particularly in the late stages of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth, just as they did on several occasions during the historic 27-game winning streak and a couple of times in the playoffs.
Tad bit extra
A little luck wouldn’t hurt either. Then again, the great ones make their own luck.