Miami Heat Index: Andre Iguodala

Sixers at Heat, Game 1: 5 things I saw

April, 16, 2011
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
Dwyane Wade
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images
Doug Collins was certain that Dwyane Wade would get the ball down the stretch. He was right.

The Heat won a somewhat inelegant, but hard-fought test in Game 1 vs. the Sixers, 97-89. A few of the more interesting developments:

Andre Iguodala gets the call on Dwyane Wade
One of the most revealing moments of the afternoon came in the game's closing minutes with the Sixers knocking on the door. After guarding LeBron James for most of the game, Andre Iguodala shifted over to Dwyane Wade down the stretch.

Sixers head coach Doug Collins, in his postgame news conference, was asked about the decision and answered very matter-of-factly. "Wade is going to have the ball," Collins said with an air of certainty. "We had planned on that coming in, that if it came down to crunch time at the end of the game, we wanted our best individual defender on Wade because when Miami really took off this year, they put the ball in Wade's hands."

Considering that Erik Spoelstra has remained adamant that no such designation exists for the Heat, Collins' certitude speaks volumes. Is Spoelstra bluffing when he said, rather petulantly, "I think that's probably so overstated," in regard to the notion that Wade is his closer?

It's possible that both Collins and Spoelstra have legitimate points. If you're Collins, you can do a lot worse than sticking one of the game's most capable perimeter defenders on Wade. In turn, Spoelstra has a point. While Wade has certainly seen his share of the ball in crucial possessions recently, much of the action has been run as a two-man game, with Chris Bosh and the spot-up shooters in prime position to wreak havoc. It's almost unthinkable to believe that James won't be taking crucial shots this spring inside of two minutes.

Still, Collins' position raises an eyebrow. He's a basketball lifer with sharp instincts, and doesn't make defensive assignments without serious consideration.

Philadelphia's first quarter
The Sixers finished the regular season as the 17th-ranked offense in the league, but you wouldn't have known it from their 31 points on 21 first-quarter possessions (a 147.6 efficiency rating if you're scoring at home). The Sixers picked up a few buckets in transition and early offense, as well as a handful of second-chance points, but the bulk of their production came in the half court, a place they usually don't prosper. Overall, they shot 64.7 percent from the field in the first quarter.

How did the Sixers accomplish that? They did it the way efficient teams do -- by getting players the ball where they're most effective. Elton Brand converted five of Philadelphia's 14 field goals in the quarter. After the game, Brand's defender in the first quarter, Bosh, confessed that he was outwitted and put up less resistance than he should have. "There were a couple times he caught me off-guard, and he ducked in and that was my mistake," Bosh said.

The play Bosh is referring to came at about the 6:15 mark of the first quarter. Brand is working on the left block as a screener. First he sets a pindown for Andre Iguodala to free him up to catch the ball up top, then another one for Jodie Meeks who spots up on the left side. Meanwhile, Jrue Holiday sets up on the right side, where Iguodala delivers him the ball. Holiday gets a nice side screen from Spencer Hawes, then moves baseline. Bosh begins to cheat off Brand. Though Holiday almost coughs the ball up, Brand is already a free man. Once Holiday reclaims the ball, Brand simply cuts behind Bosh along the baseline. Holiday finds him underneath, where Brand slams it home -- picking up the foul from Wade, who tries to help.

Brand has his way on the block, but the Sixers also get some nice movement from his teammates. When Holiday penetrates off a side screen from Brand, the Heat defense drops to the level of the ball. Hawes simply flashes into the paint, where Holiday finds him with a bounce pass in traffic.

The Heat ultimately adjust their defense, first with a matchup zone (discussed below), but also by denying the Sixers the ball in their favorite spots. Brand isn't really a factor after the first period. Bosh explains why: "I tried to front him in the post, work him off the block a little bit. I wanted to take away his easy touches. ... I knew that eventually he'd try to move into his sweet spot and try to get good position."

Those sweet spots are the key for Philly, and many of those easy touches Bosh spoke of originate because Holiday is aggressive. After the first quarter, Holiday didn't attack as fiercely. Part of that was a function of the Heat's intensified defense, but some of it wasn't.

Miami's second-quarter zone
After hemorrhaging in the first quarter, the Heat went to a 2-3 zone to start the second quarter. "I had to try something," Spoelstra said. "We've been working on it. It's not something I want to do a steady diet [of] for a whole game, but certainly to try to break their rhythm."

Specifically, what about the Heat's zone disrupted the Sixers? First off, the pairing of Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony is the Heat's best defensive combination at the point guard and center, respectively. Both guys are rangy and have quick feet. In a scheme that requires quick lateral movement, decisiveness and the ability to shift direction with the movement of the ball, you couldn't cast a better tandem than Chalmers and Anthony. On the very first possession in the zone, a tentative Evan Turner penetrates. Chalmers challenges him at the top of the circle, but Anthony awaits in the paint and swats Turner's floater away.

The Sixers are a team particularly susceptible to the zone because they can't stretch you out with knockdown perimeter shooters. Meeks is the only Sixer shooting anywhere close to 40 percent, and he isn't on the floor for the start of the stretch (though he returns after four disastrous possessions). As a result, the Heat have less ground to cover, and cover it they do. One of the steadfast rules to beating the zone is attack it in the middle. That's what Thad Young tries to do on the next possession -- but there's Anthony again, dashing to foul line the instant Young flashes. Young initiates his left-handed drive, but Anthony is with him the whole way. Young's flip shot isn't close.

On possession No. 3, the ball meanders around the perimeter. When Andres Nocioni finally feeds a flashing Hawes, the Heat knock the ball away -- another turnover. The ball never even crosses the arc on possession No. 4, as Turner and Nocioni play hot potato. Nocioni ultimately settles for a contested jumper.

"The zone kind of keeps everyone out on the perimeter, and it just caught them off-guard," James said. "The few possessions we went to the zone allowed us to get back into the game."

Over the seven possessions the Heat countered the Sixers with the zone in the second quarter, Philadelphia scored only twice. When the Heat experimented again with the zone in the fourth quarter, the Sixers failed to score in two possessions.

Chris Bosh as offensive decongestant
Bosh isn't a screener in the Kendrick Perkins or Tyson Chandler mold. He's not going to paste the opposing point guard or give his teammate a swath of open space the size of Saint Peter's Square. But over the past several weeks, Bosh's screening action has been vital to the Heat's offensive resurgence.

For most of the night, the Sixers did a superb job of containing the Heat's first option. The Heat would run their bread-and-butter elbow sets, clear their point guard to the corner, where he'd set a screen for Wade. But for much of the night, nothing much materialized. The Sixers, as is their modus operandi, chased Miami's shooters off the line. They did a nice job converging on Wade in the paint. And they bumped cutters and bodied up on James.

What opened up the Sixers' defense that was clogging the Heat in the half court?

Bosh in motion.

Simply put, when Bosh dives to the hole, with or without the ball, it scrambles the defense and invariably opens up space. Those angle pick-and-rolls he orchestrates with Wade are producing prolific results. More times than not, Bosh finishes. But even when he doesn't, his presence compromises the defense so much that other opportunities arise. Take a possession in the first quarter. It's a familiar action -- an angle screen-roll with Wade and Bosh. Philadelphia chooses to double Wade, which leaves the weakside big man, Hawes, to pick up Bosh on the roll. Bosh's close-range shot falls off the front lip of the rim, but because Hawes had to help, Zydrunas Ilgauskas has set up shop under the backboard for the easy putback.

We marvel at the Wade-James pick-and-roll, and for good reason -- it's unstoppable. But a Wade (or James) and Bosh combination offers another benefit. When Bosh moves to the perimeter for a stepup screen, he drags the opponent's best big defender out to the perimeter with him. If the defense chooses to trap -- often a good idea if Wade or James have the ball in their hands -- someone has to pick up Bosh. And now you're playing 4-on-3 or, if the defense rotates promptly to Bosh, 3-on-2.

For a defense like Philadelphia's that places a premium on orderliness, staying at home and individual base defense, Bosh on the move with the ball in Wade's hand presents a real problem.

The Heat's traps
Miami's pick-and-roll coverage is one of its defensive calling cards. Given the Heat's personnel, they tend to opt for a "hard show," with their big man jumping out on at the ball handler at the point of attack, then recovering to his original assignment (or, if the other big man has picked up that assignment on the rotation, the other big man).

Many teams choose to trap the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations, but the Heat deploy that tactic very selectively. Spoelstra will rarely call for the trap if the roll man can hurt you from distance with a pop. Furthermore, big men like Ilgauskas, Dampier and (when he plays) Magloire aren't very good candidates to trap. With Joel Anthony, Spoelstra has a bit more leeway because Anthony can smother a guard 25 feet from the basket and quickly drop back to the paint if the play demands it. Spoelstra is most likely to call for the trap when he wants to pry the ball from a specific point guard's hands. The Heat ran traps at Russell Westbrook, for instance, but most nights call for a straight-up show.

On Saturday, we saw a surprising number of traps on Philadelphia pick-and-rolls. The Sixers run a steady stream of side pick-and-rolls, and more times than not, the Heat would try to pin Holiday against the sideline with the ball by trapping -- even if it means leaving Brand at the foul line extended on the strong side. But even Lou Williams encountered a trap from Mikes Bibby & Miller after a high screen at the top of the floor from Young, then again in the fourth. In the third quarter, Bibby and Ilgauskas trapped Holiday 30 feet from the basket. And Andre Iguodala encountered a trap from James Jones and Anthony as the Sixers were rallying in the fourth quarter.

Spoelstra seems to be varying his pick-and-roll coverage quite a bit, and it will be interesting to see if this is just a Philly thing, or if he plans to continue throwing traps at whomever the Heat confront in the playoffs. With potentially Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose on deck, could the Heat become -- gasp -- a born-again trapping team?

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76ers at Heat, Game 1: Five things to watch

April, 15, 2011
By Kevin Arnovitz and Tom Haberstroh
Dwyane Wade
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesDwyane Wade's attack will put a ton of pressure on the Sixers' disciplined defense.

Transition could tilt everything
“If they force a turnover, forget about it. It’s a dunk on the other end. They’re as fast as any team I’ve seen this year -- other than us.”

Those are the words of Erik Spoelstra, but they just as well could have been the words of Doug Collins, the coach on the other end of the sidelines. These two teams love getting out in the open court, and they do it better than anybody else. Spoelstra will tell you the Heat are a running team. He has said this all season. And yet, despite Spoelstra’s insistence, the Heat rarely put their foot on the gas. Just 13.1 percent of the Heat’s offense this season has come out of transition, ranking them 13th in the NBA in transition frequency. Looking at pace factor -- the number of possessions per 48 minutes -- the Heat rank as the 10th-slowest team in the NBA. They don’t play fast.

So what is Spoelstra talking about? He’s referring to the team’s strength, not frequency. The Heat are lethal when they decide to run, posting the best efficiency in the NBA when they get out in the open floor in transition, scoring 1.224 points per play (the Sixers rank second). But getting into transition is always the hard part. Zoom back to the second quarter of the last Heat-Sixers game, when the Heat went on a 22-3 run, and you’ll see how destructive the Heat can be when they poke the ball away. With the rubber-band-stretchy lineup of Mike Bibby, Dwyane Wade, Mike Miller< LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the Heat were relentless on defense, causing turnovers and scoring at will in transition. As LeBron James and Wade barreled down the middle of the court, the Sixers were defenseless against them.

But here’s the issue: The Sixers are the least turnover-prone team in the NBA. If the Heat want to go up 1-0 in the series, they have to put on the pressure and exert their athleticism on the Sixers -- without rest. If the Heat get their skirmishes in front of their home crowd, this one could get out of reach early.

Dwyane Wade's opportunities ... and challenges
It seems like an eternity ago when Wade was practicing his post game against Jerry Stackhouse at the far end of the Heat's practice court. After that workout session, a sweaty Wade confessed that, at 28, he'd started to realize it was about time to supplement his aggressive attack game with a post-up game, the sort of evolution Kobe Bryant has undertaken over the past several seasons.

We've seen traces of that commitment from Wade over the course of the season, but in the Heat's previous meeting against Philadelphia on March 25, Wade looked to post up Sixers guard Jodie Meeks at every opportunity. Collins is very reluctant to send double-teams, but Wade's deep position and command over Meeks down low forced Philly's hand. Wade often would pass out against a scrambling Sixers defense. It's a scheme both Wade and Spoelstra like a lot. Will Wade spend considerable time in the post versus Meeks? "No question," Wade said.

While Meeks might have vulnerabilities against Wade as a defender, the Sixers sharpshooter presents a certain challenge for Wade, who has a tendency to slough off his man to help, sometimes unnecessarily, in the paint. Meeks drained three of seven shots from beyond the arc in the teams' previous meeting, and if Wade isn't more selective, Meeks has the potential to burn him again.

How LeBron can beat Iguodala
LeBron James is familiar with Andre Iguodala’s game. Maybe too familiar. Talking after the Heat’s practice Friday, James rambled off this factoid offhand: “Besides myself, he’s the only one in the league this season to average 14 points, six assists and five rebounds.” Impressive.

After going head to head against Iguodala over the years and playing with him on the USA teams, James calls Iguodala one of his toughest defenders. And the Heat know how to get the upper hand in the matchup: by not having Iguodala guard James at all. To accomplish this objective, the Heat like to have Bibby set ball screens while James is dribbling out on the perimeter. Bibby is one of the most underrated screeners in the game because he gets his elbows out and discretely grabs the other player's jersey at the point of contact. It’s not legal by any means, but he’s been getting away with it for years and it works. After Bibby sets the screen, James forces the mismatch on Bibby’s man, either Jrue Holiday or Lou Williams, and pounds the ball in the post.

At practice, Spoelstra said we should expect the Heat to employ this strategy (Bibby screening for James) more often in the playoff opener, but he also expressed some discipline. “That’s part of our game right now, so I don’t think we have to go out of our way to do it,” Spoelstra said. “We’ll try to exploit a lot of those different things without overdoing it when [the Sixers] get into a rhythm.”

There’s a thin line between doing it and overdoing it. But keep a close eye on the creativity that the Heat use in getting James mismatches. In the last meeting between these two teams, the Heat had Bibby set down screens on James’ man to free the two-time MVP up to do his work on someone else. ESPN Stats and Information tells us that James has shot 25.0 percent (3-for-12) when guarded by Iguodala and 56.3 percent (18-for-32) when guarded by every other Sixer. If Miami can get James matched up against someone other than Iguodala, the Heat will look to capitalize. Moreso now than ever, each advantage counts.

Turning the tables on the Sixers' strong defense
After the last meeting, we discussed how the Heat were able to take advantage of Philadelphia's disciplined defensive scheme. Collins has instilled a stay-at-home philosophy. He demands strong one-on-one base defense from his guys, and will send help and double-teams if absolutely necessary. Furthermore, Collins is adamant that his team take away its opponent's 3-point shot.

The Heat leveraged this strategy by forcing the issue in the middle of the floor. What did Miami do? It went to its small lineup, which spaced the floor and allowed Wade and James and, to some extent, Bosh to attack the Sixers off the dribble. This aggressiveness forced the Sixers into a series of bad choices. The Sixers, adamant to stay at home, weren't able to to sufficiently protect the paint against James and Wade. Philadelphia also doesn't have very many shot-blockers to deter those drives.

This is the primary reason Wade was able to go off for 39 points and earn 11 attempts at the stripe. In their small lineup, the Heat also tested Philly by unleashing the Wade-James pick-and-roll on seven possessions, generating an impressive 10 points (1.43 points per possession).

The Sixers can insist that their individual defenders control penetration, but it seems like a futile tactic against the likes of Wade and, to some extent, James (Iguodala might be the one guy on the Sixers' roster who can contain a perimeter attacker like James). How will Collins adjust? We'll see.

The hive of yellow jackets
If you're Bosh, what kind of opponent do you want to see in a seven-game series? Ideally, you'd prefer a team without a true formidable defensive force down low. Fortunately for Bosh, he won't confront many rim protectors against the Sixers. Elton Brand is still a crafty, physical defender with solid instincts, but at this point in his career, Bosh might be a little too quick a cover. Ditto for Spencer Hawes, who bodied up on Bosh for a handful of possessions March 25. Although his big body provided some resistance down on the block, Bosh also has a quickness advantage, particularly rolling to the rim. Fellow Georgia Tech alum Thaddeus Young also drew the Bosh assignment for stretches, but Bosh can easily shoot over the undersized forward. "Chris has an advantage over Thad, off the dribble and on the block," Paul Hewitt, who coached both Bosh and Young at Georgia Tech, said Friday.

Young might be the most fascinating player in the series. He's a candidate for both sixth man of the year and most improved player. Young played the 3 in college but has seen most of his minutes at the power forward slot in Collins' speedy, smaller unit. Hewitt, who makes a point to watch both Bosh and Young whenever he has the chance, has come around on Young's appropriate position. "The more they've played him at the 4, the more confident he's become," Hewitt said Friday. "Now he's playing the 4, but what makes him dangerous is that he's taken those attributes as a 3 with him to the 4."

Whether Young is a 3 or a 4 might be immaterial, given how much Philadelphia's second unit runs, and Young is one of the catalysts for that transition attack. "He's one of the keys to the series because he'll keep one of those three guys busy, whether it's LeBron, Bosh or Wade," Hewitt said. "They have to run up and down the court with him."

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Philadelphia at Heat: 5 things to watch

March, 25, 2011
By Kevin Arnovitz and Tom Haberstroh
Dwyane Wade
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Friday's Heat-Sixers matchup could be just one of many games these teams play over the next month or so.

Storming the front line
Philadelphia and Miami share this commonality: both teams employ tough defenses without a shot-blocking anchor. But whereas the Heat have Erick Dampier to eat up space inside, the Sixers can be a bit thin underneath with Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand manning the post. The Sixers allow opponents to make 66 percent of their shots at the basket, the ninth-most successful rate in the NBA, so the Heat need to take advantage. Taking Chris Bosh’s lead, Miami must enter the game with an attacker’s mentality, which means no settling for 20-footers, off-balance leaners and fadeaway jumpers. We’ve witnessed a newfound aggressiveness from Bosh, stemming from his Portland postgame public venting. And with Zydrunas Ilgauskas still sidelined with a foot infection, Bosh’s pressure on the interior becomes all the more imperative. The Heat mustered only 10 shots at the rim (half their normal frequency) the last time these two teams met, in late November, and that simply won’t cut it this time around. The Sixers can be exposed down low and it’s up to the Big Three to hit ‘em where it hurts.

LeBron James vs. Andre Iguodala
LeBron probably won't encounter a more difficult defensive matchup than Iguodala, who might be the most underrated isolation defender in the league. Iguodala was listed as day-to-day after tweaking his knee early in the Sixers' win over Atlanta on Wednesday, but if he's on the floor, he'll be bodying up on LeBron in his usual role of stopper. Iguodala starts his defensive work early by trying to deny the most basic swing or entry pass to his matchup. If his man is set up on the weak side, Iguodala will crowd him, buying every inch so that a catch at 18 feet occurs at 20. Once the ball arrives, Iguodala always has his hands in the air and that lengthy wing span impairs his man's vision. Unless you're a knockdown shooter from 20, Iggy will generally offer a modicum of space, more concerned with cutting off driving lanes, something he does as well as anyone. Iguodala will do his best to force LeBron east-and-west, toward sidelines and baselines, walling off the paint with his quick feet and long reach. Given how well Iguodala moves and how often he's matched up against the opponent's most lethal wing scorer, his low foul rate is unbelievable. Among regular NBA swingmen, only Tayshaun Prince hacks less frequently. LeBron can settle for 21-footers -- they've certainly been dropping of late -- but his best course of action against Iguodala is to work the pick-and-roll with Bosh, gobble up whatever space Iguodala affords him, then make smart basketball plays that scramble the Sixers' disciplined D. On the other end, Iguodala has been handling the ball more, which means LeBron will have to apply the kind of pressure and attention he places on the Kevin Durants and Paul Pierces of the world. Leave the roving to someone else.

The Sixers' savvy D
It's amazing what the simple implementation of defensive principles can do for a team! Last season, a disoriented, identity-starved Philly team ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency. This season? The Sixers rank ninth overall. It isn't brain surgery, just a very disciplined, pragmatic brand of defense. First off, Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams and the other smalls fight like hell through every high screen. When the ball defender finds himself trailing, he gets a lot of help from his big men -- Brand, Hawes and Thad Young (let's leave Marreese Speights out of it, shall we?). Those mobile bigs will meet the penetrator in the paint, while still shading the screener. Brand, in particular, anchors this process. If the action breaks down the defense, the other big man will rotate over. We saw this executed beautifully against Boston a couple of weeks back, and again down the stretch versus Atlanta on Wednesday. Recovery is the key to the Sixers' defensive prowess, because Doug Collins likes his perimeter guys to stay at home on potent shooters (see below). That means the big man defending the screener must quickly drop back after his hard show. With their quickness, that's not so much a problem for the members of Philly's front line. They're a bit vulnerable at the rim (see above), but they compensate by making it more difficult to get there by denying entry passes and funneling ball handlers away from the middle of the floor where it's harder to feed the block.

Living by the 3
If you glance at the Heat’s game log, you’ll notice something pretty quickly: they die a lot by the 3. In fact, they’re 7-12 when they shoot worse than 30 percent from downtown. That effect isn’t entirely unique to the Heat; the 3-point shot is a crucial ingredient to every team’s success. But 3-point shooting becomes even more critical on Friday with the Sixers in town. They might have the best downtown defense in the league. Consider this: opponents have shot a league-low 31.8 percent from deep against the Sixers since the All-Star break, which is easily the worst rate in the NBA. The Sixers wield super-stretchy perimeter defenders in Iguodala, Young and Holiday, so sharp kickouts to perimeter shooters will be vital for the Heat’s attack. Against the Sixers, there’s no room for hesitation and indecisiveness from the Heat’s spot-up shooters. Keep a tab on Mike Bibby, Mike Miller, James Jones and Eddie House from beyond the arc. If they’re not receiving kickouts from the Big Three or finding pockets on the perimeter, chances are the Heat won’t walk away from this one with a win.

Pay attention to Philly's deceptive break and early offense
Pop quiz (and you'll never guess): Which team in the NBA has scored more points in transition this season? The answer is Philadelphia -- and only the Pacers, Wizards and Nuggets use a higher percentage of their possessions in transition. That seems wholly counterintuitive considering the Sixers' middling pace, but when you break their transition attack down to its component parts, it makes a lot of sense. They protect the defensive glass, don't turn the ball over once they secure and have a bunch of guys who know how to run the floor. In fact, they're the only team in the league that has four guys who have recorded at least 70 buckets in transition (Holiday, Iguodala, Young and Jodie Meeks). That four-wide-out package serves them well. When they get out, the Sixers' big men cause trouble with rim runs and early post-up and drag screens with Holiday and Iguodala. The Heat defend the break fairly well, but when they're not fully engaged, they have a tendency to ball watch when shots go up. Philadelphia has to work much harder for clean looks when it brings the ball up, and the Heat should do everything in their power to confine the Sixers to the half court.