Heat at Houston: 5 things to watch

December, 29, 2010
12/29/10
12:51
PM ET
By Kevin Arnovitz and Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Dwyane Wade
Victor Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images
Dwyane Wade will find a much faster, more efficient Rockets offense Wednesday.

Is there a way to stop Kevin Martin?
That left-leaning jumper. That deceptive ability to find open space and draw contact. Kevin Martin continues to be one of the most unique and advanced offensive talents in the league. His 63 percent true shooting percentage leads all NBA perimeter starters and defending him requires a team-wide effort. Martin moves exceptionally well without the ball. He doesn't fly around the floor off multiple screens like Rip Hamilton or Ray Allen. Rather, he utilizes the Rockets' effective "corner sets" to force the defense into difficult situations. When the ball is with the big man at the elbow, Martin lurks on the wing. The defense must prepare itself for two potential actions for Martin: a handoff as he cuts toward the man in the post or a back door cut after he lulls you to sleep. If Dwyane Wade hugs Martin tight and plays on his hip, the Heat's back line defenders must be ready for a back door cut. If Wade plays off him to protect against that action, the Heat risk surrendering an easy stop-and-pop jumper for Martin off that handoff. Martin is also very dangerous on the break, as he's eighth in the NBA in points scored in transition. He and point guard Kyle Lowry have established trust and chemistry running the floor. Martin has a knack for trailing the break, then going to an open spot along the arc where Lowry will find him.

Can Heat control the pace again?
In the first quarter of Tuesday night’s game, it looked as though the Heat would engage in a track meet with the Knicks, but coach Erik Spoelstra slowed the game down thereafter, holding the Knicks nine possessions short of their red-line 99-possession pace. Don’t let the Heat’s 20 fast-break points fool you -- Miami elected to grind out the half-court game for the majority of the night. But can the Heat dictate the tempo again against another uptempo team tonight in Houston? It’s the second game of a back-to-back for Miami, so the Heat will have extra incentive to step on the brakes. The Rockets have their turbo booster Aaron Brooks back in the fold after recovering from an ankle injury. While he isn’t starting over Lowry quite yet, he will platoon at point guard. Curiously, the Heat have a higher transition rate (percentage of offense generated from transition) on the second of back-to-backs this season (15.8 percent) than in all other games (12.5 percent).

How to outsmart Battier
Shane Battier holds the reputation as one of the most heady and pesky wing defenders in the NBA. While others go through their pregame shooting routines, the Duke alum has been known to pore over scouting reports and crunch data in the locker room. But LeBron James and the Heat have access to data too -- data that suggest Battier is one of the most feeble post-up defenders in the NBA. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound veteran has allowed 39 points on 35 post-ups this season, according to Synergy Sports Technology, an efficiency that ranks 88th among 90 qualifiers. James certainly has the weight advantage, but does he have the polish to execute effectively? His awareness was lacking Tuesday night as he traveled while backing down Raymond Felton down low on one occasion and then put the blinders on while posting up Toney Douglas in the fourth quarter, letting Ronny Turiaf poke the ball out for a steal. Battier will hope James’ post-up struggles continue and he doesn’t expose Battier’s Achilles' heel as a defender.

The battle inside
In some sense, Houston shares some of New York's qualities on the front line -- the Rockets are agile but give up a lot of traditional size. Othersized center Chuck Hayes will likely draw Chris Bosh on Wednesday night. We normally preach the virtues of attacking the rim, but Hayes has a low base and is smart about cutting off angles and denying the drive. Rather than try to challenge Hayes with a full repertoire of moves, Bosh might be smarter to focus on catching the ball a little closer to the basket, where he can square up and shoot his patented jumper over the 6-foot-6 Hayes. If Hayes takes Bosh, that leaves Luis Scola to guard Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a dynamic similar to the Heat's Tuesday night win over New York where a power forward (Amare Stoudemire) took on the burden -- and proceeded to give up 12 points and nine rebounds to Big Z in the opening quarter. Ilagauskas will challenge Scola at the rim, where he towers over the Rockets' power forward, and from 17 feet, where he can force Scola to leave the paint to challenge a face-up jumper.

Keep Houston off the line
The Rockets will happily live at the line if you let them. Martin leads all perimeter players in free throw rate (a measure of how frequently a player draws shooting fouls) and has a gift for leaning into defenders. Lowry is a bowling ball who barrels into traffic actively looking for opportunities to draw contact. Scola will unleash multiple ball fakes down low on his scoop, hook shot and jumper. Defenders who fend off one will often bite on the next, at which point Scola will draw the whistle. The Heat rank slightly above league average in keeping opponents off the line, though they got a little foul-happy in the second half against New York, one reason the Knicks were able to claw their way back into the game. Being late to react is one of the primary reasons defenders commit fouls. For the Heat, strong base defense and quick anticipation of the Rockets' actions out of the read-and-react offense will make them less hack-prone.

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