The Miami Heat have become an unstoppable force to end the NBA season. Having won their last 22 games has cemented them as one of the hottest teams in history. As the defending champions they have always been the favorites this year but that point has been hammered home during this win streak. LeBron James is clearly the best player in the game, this has been true for several years and will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. Dwyane Wade is again playing like the top five player that he was before teaming up with LeBron ( and taking a back seat). The Heat are playing the type of basketball that could lead to them breaking the record for wins in a row.
Miami has shown that no one can stop them in the East if they are at their best. The last time they played in a rematch against the 2012 NBA Finals Western conference foes, they beat up Thunder en route to a blow out. That isn’t to say that the Heat winning a title is forgone conclusion, I believe one team will stand in their way, The San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are one of the few teams in the league that match up well with the Heat, to see why you just need look at the stats and he weaknesses they point out.
This is the most deceiving of the Heat’s weaknesses. Eric Spoelstra has always been a coach who emphasized getting back on defense first and offensive rebounding second, so their lack of rebounding is in part designed.
San Antonio subscribes to the same rebounding philosophy. With the Heat having one of the most explosive fast break attacks in the league, getting back on defense becomes all the more essential. That doesn’t mean that Spurs can’t crash one or two players to the glass to take advantage of Miami’s woeful defensive rebounding.
Miami’s rebounding problems can be broken down to two factors. First, a lack of rebounding from their bigs, specifically all star Chris Bosh (12.6 rebounding percentage, good for 7th on the team). Second, and most importantly, their rotating defense causes their big men to blitz screens and defend on the perimeter making it so a lot of defensive rebounds come down to a guard/wing attempting to box out the other teams big man.
The best way to beat any defense is ball movement, which the Spurs excel at (first in the league in assists) but against a trapping defense it becomes even more important. With San Antonio’s ability to move the ball Miami will find itself more out of position for rebounds than normal, allowing the front court players Popovich does send to the glass to excel. Tiago Splitter, Tim Duncan and even DeJuan Blair (the three best rotation offensive rebounders), will find the gaps in the Miami rotation and be a big threat on the glass against Miami.
Heat percentage of close shots taken by PF, C: 31%, 38%
Opponents percentage of close shots taken by PF, C: 38%, 51%
Spurs’ percentage of close shots taken by PF, C: 37%, 50%
The Heat lack a post presence, both offensively and defensively. Their best interrior player, Chris Bosh, has the offensive skill set of a small forward. Their offense is founded upon the idea of spacing the floor with shooters in order to allow LeBron James and Dwyane Wade the space to drive to the hoop. The Heat thrive by pulling shot blockers away from the hoop, creating lanes to the basket. It is for this reason that the Heat struggle against zone defenses, that keep their shot blockers in and around the painted area.
San Antonio is one of the most disciplined defenses in the league, lead by the league leader in defensive rating, Tim Duncan. The Spurs will zone up, staying home in the paint on rotations leaving Wade and James little room to drive to the hoop. Even when the Spurs play man to man defense against the Heat, their help principles have much in common with a zone.
The best way to defeat a collapsing match up zone type defense that the Spurs will throw at Miami is to get the ball inside to break down the zone, then throw the ball out for open shots. Miami’s lack of interior scoring will make shots difficult, forcing LeBron into many ill advised shots. If Miami can not manufacture shots close to the basket to break down San Antonio’s defense expect LeBron to develop a fake injury reminiscent of elbow injuries past, en route to missing a ton of contested jumpers.
Miami Heat .208 Free Throws per Field Goal Attempted, 19th in NBA
If you adjust for the pace that they play at (shockingly slow at 23rd in the league even after factoring in James and Wade’s breakouts) the Miami Heat are near the bottom third in the league in fouls committed per shot attempted. Now this number is considerably more perplexing when you consider that fouls are almost never called on LeBron or Flash, a combined 3.7 fouls over 72.9 minutes a game.
The Spurs play at a much faster pace than the Heat are comfortable with. With the increased number of possessions the Heat’s fouls will probably increase. If the Spurs are able to get the ball inside and challenge the Heat’s size deficiency they have a good chance to have the Heat at a bigger size disadvantage than their normal tiny front court.
Yes Lebron and Wade are great, but if their teammates are ushering the Spurs to the free throw line, their chance of victory plummets. With the Spurs combination of size, speed and ball movement San Antonio could force Miami into a lot of fouls.
Lack of Attempts
Heat 5092 Field Goals attempted, last in NBA
The Heat are the best shooting team in the league, leading the NBA with a .548 effective field goal rate. They take a lot of good shots and knock them down at a great rate. However, they have compiled these numbers against a worse than average schedule (25th in the NBA). Against, more difficult playoff competition the Heat might not have as easy a time scoring.
In the playoffs, defense is taken to the next level. At the same time due to the importance of the games, each possession becomes that much more vital. Regardless, of how good teams shoot, it is important to get as many scoring opportunities as possible. With the Heat lacking in both pace and rebounding they do not create the extra shots that can be the difference between winning and losing in the playoffs.
The Spurs on the other hand, are 7th in the league in pace, they are 19th in total rebounds both far superior to Miami’s numbers in these categories. These extra possessions in the NBA finals will force the Heat and Lebron short of their ultimate goal. If the Heat are to lose in the playoffs these concern areas will be their undoing.