- Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Staff Writer
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Erik Spoelstra wants LeBron James and the Heat to play faster. Where have we heard this before?
What's atop the Heat's to-do list next upcoming season?
Step on the gas.
That's what Erik Spoelstra has been planning ever since he watched his team win a title without a bumbling center. It's also part of the reason the Heat have, so far, passed on adding a slow-footed 7-footer to the roster.
Talking to WQAM on Tuesday, Spoelstra shed some light on his gameplan for next season.
"I hope to play faster," Spoelstra said. "We turned it up a gear last year and I think we have the personnel to hopefully go even faster. I think with a normal training camp and a normal season we can build up that habit even more."
If this sounds familiar, that's because it is. This was Spoelstra's vow last offseason when he took a page out of Oregon football coach Chip Kelly's playbook.
Playing faster is also the vow of every NBA coach every offseason. Call it the "New Season's Resolution" for coaches. Like an overweight person's diet and exercise after January 1, most ambitious teams hit the breaks as time goes on and the harsh realities of the NBA grind begin to set in.
Take the Heat for instance.
Before LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teamed up to play in Miami, the Heat ranked as the 28th-slowest team in 2009-10 according to pace factor, which estimates a team's average possessions per 48 minutes. They slowed the game down, played hard-nosed defense and control reigned over chaos. In the Big Three's first season together, Miami played a little faster with its added horsepower, ranking 21st in pace -- still far below the league average.
Then Spoelstra decided to implement the "pace-and-space" offense that preached uptempo play and the Heat opened the season by playing at breackneck speeds. That lasted all of a few weeks and then they were back to their old ways.
Here's a chart of the Heat's pace as the season progressed in 2011-12. The Heat ran teams out of the gym for the first few games and then the inevitable combination of lockout fatigue, mid-season complacency and energy preservation began to sap the Heat's velocity on the hardwood.
The Heat ended up tied as the 14th-fastest squad in the league, which is a pretty steep improvement from 2010-11. However, you can see why that ranking misses the point. The chart illustrates what you may have noticed if you watched the Heat closely last season; they steadily decelerated as the season progressed.
Here are the Heat's rank in pace during various stages of the season, according to the NBA.com stats page:
Pre-All-Star break: 7th-fastest of 30 teams.
Post-All-Star break: 24th-fastest of 30 teams.
Postseason: 10th-fastest of 16 teams.
So by the end of the regular season, the Heat actually reverted back to their pre-Big-Three levels, ranking in the bottom-half of the league in tempo.
Notice that uptick at the end of the postseason? That's because the Heat posted their "fastest" game of the postseason in their Game 5 clincher. They tallied 99 possessions in the 15-point win over Oklahoma City, this after averaging 90.5 possessions in the previous four games against Kevin Durant and Co. They hadn't played that fast in months. That's telling.
Remember, talk is cheap this time of year. Every team has high hopes for the season and vowing to play faster has become an annual tradition in the NBA (along with every player adorably claiming to be in the best shape of their life).
The Heat should probably play faster in order to leverage their athleticism and find easy buckets in transition. Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis will certainly leak out in transition and run the court better than a Zydrunas Ilgauskas-type to round out the Big Three. Playing faster demands the opposing defense to quickly find Miami's new sharpshooters on the perimeter rather than devoting their full attention to stopping James and Wade's stampede.
Playing faster is probably the smart move. But as Spoelstra learned last season, that's easier said than done.
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