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Thursday, May 10, 2012
How did the Heat neutralize Novak?

By Jared Zwerling

MIAMI -- Steve Novak would routinely shoot 4-for-7 in a game from beyond the arc.

But in five games against the Heat, he was a combined 4-for-7. So how can one player go from being so hot, averaging 2.5 makes in 5.2 attempts per game and finishing the regular season with the best 3-point percentage in the NBA (47.2), to being completely neutralized?

"They just didn't give a lot of space," Novak said. "I could tell they were aware of where I was during the majority of the game. I didn't get many good looks, but to their credit they played us well. They close out so quick, they cover ground so fast, so they did a good job."

Interestingly, the Heat were one of worst teams at guarding the long bomb during the regular season (their opponents' 36.3 percentage from downtown was fourth-worst in the league). Why? Because the Heat liked to use their athleticism to over-trap on the perimeter and over-play passing lanes to feast on steals en route to fastbreak points; therefore, that occasionally left shooters open.

But the Heat definitely made sure to key in on Novak, who said that every defender was yelling his name to make sure they knew were he was at all times. That started with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra providing his players a detailed scouting report on how Novak nailed most of his threes, and proceeded with Novak's regular matchup in the series, Dwyane Wade, his former teammate at Marquette, not giving him a sliver of space.

"He has the quickest release I've seen in the league," Spoelstra said. "He hit one the other night in the corner against Dwyane, and Dwyane knows him as well as anybody, so we tried to put him on him in as many matchups as we could. Dwyane was on top of him, and he buried it right in his face in the corner.

"With a guy like that, when you have a little bit more time in the playoffs, you try to take away some of those easy threes that he had been thriving on in April and March, and those were in transition, after timeouts and off offensive rebounds. We tried to take away those and then use our athleticism to get to the rest. But he's a great shooter and he's a great story, that it took this long for him, but he kept on fighting and now he has a real significant role."

Wade called it "cool" to face off against his former college teammate and to have two alums represented in the same series -- a credit, he said, to the extra hours he, Novak and Travis Diener put into the gym. But in the end, Wade didn't want to give his friend any looks. Uncomfortable is what he wanted to make Novak.

"Steve is one of the best shooters in the NBA," Wade said. "All season, when they were very good, he was getting a lot of threes up. He was making four or five threes [per game]. He ended the season with the best 3-point percentage in the league, so we had to make sure every time he came in the game, we were on him.

"I enjoyed covering him. We had fun, little conversations that we were having. I was just guarding him in the corner and I wouldn't let him go nowhere [laughs]. But I'm so happy for Steve because I know how hard he worked and I know the family he comes from, so for me, I'm kind of like the big brother. I'm proud of him. I'm proud of the season he had this year."

The Knicks have to do better homework preparing for the Heat in next year's playoffs, if they face each other, so Novak can get going. But, of course, the big question is: will he be back? While he loves New York, he should attract a lot of interest in free agency starting July 1.

The Knicks will need to convince the unrestricted free agent to sign for less because his value went up this season, even though he lacked a midrange game and disappeared in the playoffs (That also falls on Mike Woodson's playcalling and adjustments.) Novak also has to do a better job of moving off screens like a shooting guard. He has the foot speed, set up and release to play like that position.

Novak admitted he was to work on new ways to get open in the future, but he's overall glad how the season turned out for him.

"They did a good job of guarding me and I think that I just need to be a little bit more aggressive," he said. "I think going forward we learned a lot from this series. There were a lot of good things to come from this series."

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