Miami Heat – Small Ball Doesn’t Always Work

All summer it’s been talked about how the Miami Heat are going to fully make the transition to small ball, leaving true center off the court and using Chris Bosh as their center and LeBron James as their power-point-forward. It worked great against the Boston Celtics and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs, so why shouldn’t it keep on clicking?

Well, Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat seemed completely unprepared for what the Knicks had instore for them offensively and defensively. You can talk about the Knicks having a rare shooting night which won’t happen too often, but you can also talk about how Anthony at power forward with Tyson Chandler at center closed down the paint for the Heat while they couldn’t get anyone to block; about how slow their ball movement was on the half court offense, or how their transition defense was sluggish and lazy.

This is a long season, and one win means nothing about the next game, 1100 miles away, when your second best player sends a message to both teams through the media about not really wanting to play the game. I’m not sure if it had anything to do with the way the Heat looked on the night, but the fact is that they played in a disorganized fashion, with sloppy defending and lazy decision on offense which just isn’t like them.

Spoelstra, in my opinion, made a mistake. It was a given that Anthony was going to start at power forward. The Knicks have a committee of big guys on the bench, but they’re all pushing (or beyond) 40, and weren’t likely to start instead of Amare. Marcus Camby didn’t even get a second of game time, while Rasheed Wallace only stepped on the court because of the crowd and a thoughtful Mike Woodson. Using Joel Anthony as his starter, putting Chris Bosh back at 4 and LeBron James at 3 might have given the edge back to the Heat.

But NBA head coaches usually think long run, and this is his lineup. They also tend to stick to starting fives no matter what, even when it’s clearly not working and everyone’s feeling a bit mismatched. You might chalk it up to simply a bad individual and team performance by almost everyone on the team, with LeBron James having a very quiet 23 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists night, with the -21 in the stat line the most glaring of all the numbers.

If the Heat do have one problem which will have to be addressed is that they don’t have a reliable shot blocker to deter teams from driving inside. The Knicks kept shrinking the Heat’s defense with penetrations before kicking it outside for open shots. The Heat love to rely on their athleticism and speed on defense to trap and expand, believing they’ll be in time to trouble the shooter every time. It didn’t work against an incredible Knicks shooting night, and so early in the season, with only 2 games behind us, it’s too soon to say if it’s a one time thing or a serious problem for  the NBA champions.

It’s OK to have down nights, even if it’s after three days of rest. There was no doubt who was getting the big energy push from the crowd and from the location of the game, with the connection to the tragedy. The Miami Heat, or at least some of their players, didn’t want to be there, didn’t think they should be playing. The problem was they looked that way for almost 48 minutes.

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