Can Heat improve their small-ball attack?

January, 12, 2011
1/12/11
11:43
AM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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Did you miss the Blazers game on Sunday night? Do you wish you saw how the Heat's small-ball lineups carved up the Blazers defense?

Don't worry, Couper Moorhead at Heat.com has you covered.

In a thorough and video-filled article posted yesterday on the team's official website, Moorhead analyzed the Heat's small-ball attack late in Sunday night's game. By planting James Jones in the corner and pulling LaMarcus Aldridge away from the paint, the Heat open up the key for Dwyane Wade and LeBron James to flourish. (Jones talked about this very thing with Kevin Arnovitz after the game).

But sometimes, they don't take advantage of that space. Moorhead explains how the Heat aren't maximizing their opportunities:
In overtime, though, despite scoring 1.55 points per possession, a small limitation of the line up cropped up, mostly due to shot selection. The Blazers had Camby on Bosh and Aldridge on Jones, both HEAT players drawing their men far outside the paint, and with bigs on the outside, Portland’s rotation slowed, making it easier for Miami to earn open looks just from perimeter ball movement.

But, other than a pair of free throws, every single one of Miami’s shots was a jumper after the Blazers had a break to slow down and adjust. Most fell, and the HEAT won, but taking perimeter shots with the middle of the floor wide open can defeat the purpose of the small lineup, and enlarge the defensive risks a team takes in using it. Basically, why have James guarding a center if the HEAT aren’t going to fully utilize the spacing they’ve manufactured?

...

Against a skill five, or one that can throw his size around, things get tougher, because going small does nothing to change that Miami depends on getting stops in order to activate its transition offense.

But the broader point is that playing James at center is not intended to work every game or become the starting lineup. It’s intended to be a weapon, one that can maximize the assets the HEAT already have by pulling opposing big men out of the lane, giving James, Wade and Bosh free range to work as they please in the middle of the floor.

Moorhead points out that we shouldn't expect to see small-ball every night despite their success on Sunday night. The Heat can ill-afford to play without a traditional center when the opposing five has scoring ability -- something that doesn't describe Camby.

But Sunday night wasn't the first time the Heat prospered with Chris Bosh being their tallest player on the floor. Far from it. Earlier this season, Spoelstra often featured Bosh there with 6-foot-8 Udonis Haslem at the power forward slot when the opportunity arose, and the Heat trounced their foes.

All in all, the Heat have shown the small-ball lineup for approximately 185 minutes this season and have outscored opponents 442-380 during that time. On a per-100-possession basis, that translates to 118.2-104.1 for a point differential of +14.1. The Heat's normal point differential is +11.1.

The Heat are scary good in small-ball lineups and Spoelstra knows it. But it's another thing to convince his players that it's worthwhile to be undersized. The scoreboard may be the only sales pitch he needs.

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