Scouting the Miami Heat: Defense and Series Prediction

Last week I described the role an advanced scout would take in preparing for the Finals match-up. Here’s Part IV of an abridged version of what those scouts might have found.

Defensive Scheme/Philosophy:

Miami’s defense this post-season has been something to behold and only seems to be improving by the game. Their main principles are have already been pointed out by our very own Beckley Mason. One of Mason’s key points is that despite the Heat’s athleticism, they don’t look to shoot passing lanes in order create turnovers or transition opportunities and actually rated behind the aging Boston Celtics in steals.

HoopsWorld’s Anthony Macri  wrote about Miami’s defensive scheme and their reliance on heavy on ball pressure and quick rotations. The Heat use their athleticism to trap at various spots and situations (dead corner, pick and roll) and quickly rotate and recover out.  Miami leaves virtually no shot uncontested and their scrambling defenses forces teams into rushed looks and poor decisions. That combined with the fact their three superstars also happen to among the best at defending their position make the Heat incredibly tough to score against.

And in the playoffs, the Heat have altered this base scheme to great effect, offering a variety of different looks customized to disrupting their particular opponent. Whether it’s trapping Jrue Holiday, crowding Ray Allen, or limiting Derrick Rose, the Heat have had all the right defensive answers in each round of the playoffs.

Summary and Prediction

A few factors in my film study have caused me to relent on my original notion that Miami will waltz their way into holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy:

As Joey Whalen points out about the Mavs zone, Miami could see the ball disappear from their primary playmakers hands. Mike Miller’s one good game and

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Scouting the Miami Heat: Offense

Last week I described the role an advanced scout would take in preparing for the Finals match-up. Here’s Part III of an abridged version of what those scouts might have found.

Offensive Scheme/Philosophy

When you have arguably two of the best players in the world at their respective positions (and a power forward that’s in the Top 5), it’s easy to underappreciate Erik Spolestra’s ability to create good offense. After starting the season in a rut, Miami went on to post the 3rd highest offensive efficiency rating in the league. They’re currently ranked 4th this post-season, but that’s pretty impressive given that they played the NBA’s two best defensive teams in consecutive series.

Their main offensive scheme is based off their “Elbow Sets” (or A-Set offense to some) that has the Heat align in a 1-2-2 formation with two wings in the dead corner, two posts at the elbows, and a guard up top with the ball.

The offense is initiated by a pass to either post (Bosh being the first preference, followed by Haslem) followed by the “top” perimeter player moving toward the baseline to screen for a wing in the corner. The corner player reads the defense then executes his cut (curl, bump, straight, or backdoor) and the screener reacts accordingly. While it seems like a relatively simple action, it can be a bear to defend, especially when Lebron James and Dwyane Wade are screening for each other:

If there is no play off the initial action, the wing in the corner now has another series of choices; he can either curl into a post-up, cut to the wing for a pick and roll, or move into a dribble hand-off as shown here:

There are also some “specials,” typically called by Spoelstra, that

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Nowitzki and James: Making and unmaking myths in the NBA Playoffs

There’s a level of NBA greatness that defies logical understanding. At some point in a very few players’ careers, it happens. They go beyond simply being productive, or talented, or human and become an object of faith.

This postseason, Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James have been gathering followers on a pilgrimage to the Finals. In each city, they’ve enlarged their legends. They’ve performed miracles that brazenly disregarded percentages and precedent.

The Church of Dirk was founded on the steadfast belief that he is unguardable. Their savior: a prophet of precision and calm, floating unaffected above the suffering masses, hurling rimward high-arcing salvos that absolve the sins of his utterly mortal teammates.

With a Buddha-like tranquility, Dirk absorbs the jostles, the grabs, the beatings and uses his opponent’s force against him. He feels the contact and spins away to the basket, or else to a space somewhere behind him.

That’s the space that cannot be defended, between Nowitzki and the sideline, or the other basket. That’s his myth: the space only he commands, and where no one can follow.

His team shockingly dispatched the two time defending champions then twice came from seemingly insurmountable deficits against a young, hungry team to claim victory. Every step of the way, Dirk was making the impossible seem routine, especially in the final moments.

If Dirk’s mystique lies in that his sublime play cannot be affected by any mortal force, LeBron has elevated himself by reveling in the grimy scrums. He’s the most talented player doing the nastiest things. Miami’s entire defense was built around the idea that James can consistently protect the basket by obliterating his opponent’s biggest, tallest players. He crawls on all fours to save a rolling ball and seal his team’s victory over a reputedly grittier team. He leads

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Why the Mavs’ zone defense will decide the Finals

While continuing their near flawless offensive execution will be paramount to the Dallas Mavericks’ hopes of winning an NBA Championship, limiting the Miami Heat attack will be just as important. It won’t be easy.

Miami has already beaten two of the best defenses in the NBA in the 2011 playoffs, defeating both the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics, teams that are readily accepted as having superior defenses to Dallas. The Mavericks, however, have the benefit of the best zone defense in the league, one they have used with tremendous success against the Heat in the past.

In two regular seasons with the Mavs this year, Miami faced a zone defense on 56 offensive possessions or about one-fourth of the time. On these plays, the Heat shot 13-of-45 from the field (28.9%), resulting in an offensive efficiency of .55 points per possession – both marks are well below their season average. It’s a limited sample size to be sure, but given the success Dallas has had with short spurts of this approach and the manner in which Chicago pestered Miami with their quasi-zone in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Mavs will likely show flashes of this defense throughout the series. Furthermore, Dallas has been much more liberal in their use of the zone against Miami. During the regular season they went to the zone look a little more than 10% of the time as compared to nearly 25% against the Heat.

After watching footage of Dallas’ zone against Miami on Synergy Sports two things become readily apparent: the Mavs limit the Heat’s dribble drive game and force the ball out of the hands of their primary scorers.

Of the 45 shots the Heat attempted in these two games, just 10 were in the paint, surprising when considering that a

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Scouting the Dallas Mavericks: Defense

Last week I described the role an advanced scout would take in preparing for the Finals match-up. Here’s Part II of an abridged version of what those scouts might have found.

Defensive Scheme/Philosophy

Once Dallas is in the half-court defensively, they rely on a rotation-based man to man defense with doses of their 2-3 zone sprinkled in. While the 2-3 look is the base, it essentially morphs into a match-up zone due to the NBA defensive 3-second rules. They rarely use it for an extended period of time and tend to employ it on dead balls or after timeouts for a handful of possessions.

They have great positional flexibility with both Kidd and Marion able to guard at least three different positions. Neither are what they used to be, but this flexibility allows Dallas to hide some of their weaker defenders easier against non-threats. Given their size in the front court, they look to funnel teams toward the middle of the floor with their pick and roll coverage due to the ability to consistently have a shot-blocking threat protecting the rim at the center position.

The interesting part of the Mavs defensive scheme is the way they protect Dirk. A team defense based on rotations (as opposed to stunting) naturally and necessarily puts its players in a position to rotate into a mismatch. Given Nowitzki’s offensive value to Dallas, it is an absolute must to keep him from getting into foul trouble or being ground down by tough, physical match-ups.

The twist in the Mavs’ scheme basically requires Dirk to avoid any potential mismatches by only switching or rotating onto other non-threats. The following video shows you Dallas’ rotation out of trap of Kevin Durant off a pick and roll. This is a good look at how a typical

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Scouting the Dallas Mavericks: Offense

Last week I described the role an advanced scout would take in preparing for the Finals match-up. Here’s Part I of an abridged version of what those scouts might have found.

Offensive Scheme/Philosophy

The Mavericks are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the league and it’s based off a few simple principles. They not only space the floor perfectly, but the majority of the players know exactly what their role is. The scheme obviously all centers around superstar Dirk Nowitzki, but Rick Carlisle and his staff should get credit for consistently putting their players in positions to be successful.

Before arriving in Dallas, Carlisle had the reputation as a set-heavy coach. He’s scaled that back quite a bit with the Mavs. Carlisle looks to control the flow early most games with a few sets involving his grinders, typically defensive specialist DeShawn Stevenson.

This certainly isn’t the best use of personnel; but it still is a great piece of coaching. Calling sets for a player like Stevenson or Tyson Chandler early helps keep them more engaged on the defensive end of the floor. It’s not that these players need the touches or they won’t compete on defense, but most players tend to be more focused when contributing on both ends of the floor. So whether it’s an on or off ball screen, Stevenson usually gets a touch or two within the first three possessions.

Beyond the opening moments, Carlisle’s set calling comes in standard settings (after timeouts or dead ball situations) or when Dirk is out of the game. The rest of the time Dallas generally plays out of a relatively simple 3 out, 2 in motion-style offense that relies heavily on ball screen action, spacing, and keeping the floor spread for Nowitzki isolations.

The Mavericks will enter

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2011 NBA Finals: Back from Siberia

A half decade ago, a Siberian woman wandered into my house. She had just arrived from Russia, looking for a nanny job. She was also looking for my roommate–a friend of her sister’s–to be some sort of Bay Area sherpa. The roommate, a stocky world traveler named Tim, was M.I.A. So the Siberian was stuck with me, my buddy, and the 2006 NBA Finals.

(Wait, what game was it?)

I believe it was Game 5, but I can’t be sure. It might have been Game 3? A few of those Mavs-Heat scrums ended similarly: Dwyane Wade danced a samba to whistles as Dallas faded into impotent outrage. It all blurs into a Mavs-Heat 2006 mobius strip of Wade driving, getting fouled, shooting free throws, and driving again.

I do recall that the Siberian was short, pale, possibly attractive–though I was viewing her through the prism of being single and desperate. That Summer, I lived in a giant empty house, acting out the part of an eccentric, reclusive millionaire. I shared the place with 15 other Cal students, but the vast majority were set to arrive right before September, when school tends to start. Berkeley is a June ghost town, so the presence of an actual woman was all the more pathetically thrilling. And this particular woman had appeared out of nowhere, straight from a place I knew nothing of.

The exotic Siberian turned out to be abrasive. She spoke halting English, but in so few words could make people so uncomfortable. Fresh off the plane, this woman had no sense of when to talk, or what was impolitic. At one point, she told us, “I can see, eh, you hate me,” without hint of irony. All lulls were peppered with “Where eez Teem (Tim)?” as though we would

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HoopSpeak’s NBA Finals Preview: a gentleman’s debate

Rob Mahoney writes The Two Man Game, a Dallas Mavericks blog.

Beckley: Let the narratives of opposites begin!

Miami was all hype, Dallas came out of nowhere.

Miami has the Big Three, Dallas has Dirk and the Dirkettes.

Miami has won with the playoffs’ best defense, Dallas has had the most effective offense.

Miami’s offense relies heavily on the individual creative talents of LeBron and Wade while Dallas is an exhibition in ball movement and spacing made possible by the nightterror of matching up with Dirk Nowitzki.

Everyone is picking Miami to win what could be the first of many titles, while Dallas is a bunch of old, cagey underdogs on that last chance power drive to the finals.

That “everyone” is picking the Heat may not be accurate, for while it includes me and other intellectually lazy types, you, Rob, have your hometown Mavs in an upset. So tell me, why is everyone wrong?

Rob: Well, the only forecasters who are hideously wrong are those who expect a lopsided series in either direction. Something has to give when elite offense and elite defense collide, but the matchup dynamics of this series speak to a hard-fought six-or-seven-gamer. I’m waffling in my prediction of the verdict at the moment — the only outcome that seems as likely as the Heat winning in seven is the Mavs winning seven, or six, or losing in six, or what have you — which is really only indicative of the slightest of margins that separates the performance of these two fantastic teams.

Dallas will have a lot to contend with; their problems go beyond LeBron and Wade diving into the paint, as the offensive complications Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, and Mike Miller provide could end up deciding the series.

Other product always, well,

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What to make of Rose’s MVP?


Right now, Derrick Rose’s MVP award looks fraudulent. And it is. It was a product of mawkish media obsession, that reflexive chucking of reality in favor of bedtime stories. The entrenched press smugly sneered at the protestations of younger “stat heads,” then went with the “small guard on a team that won more games than expected” option. Whenever confused, bored, or spiteful, they push this button. A statistical revolution just can’t march through the thick ear hair of so many older scribes, mired in myth-making for little engines that can. These writers sometimes arrive at a decent conclusion, but my fear is that they get there by horse and buggy.

The playoffs should not, in theory, inform retroactive judging of regular season judgements. But they do, according to our most powerful memories of David Robinson and Karl Malone. Rose’s awful Miami series made MVP selectors look out of touch, uninformed. And while it would be foolish to hold this up as “proof” of their foolishness, these recent games were illustrative of why the pick was misguided.

But, Derrick has an opportunity to alter the historical memory of his award. Unlike Robinson (who deserved the MVP) and Malone (who deserved the MVP), Rose has room to improve. If Chicago’s thrilling superstar can grow into something skirting transcendence, his MVP accolade might look just fine years from now. His career can validate its premature recognition.

And Rose has that ability, especially if the kid can develop a decent shot. Though I rip the maudlin tendencies of sportswriters, perhaps certain voters were paying Derrick’s MVP forward. Watch him whoosh through the scrum of opposing jerseys and witness the future in the form of a layup. Watch him drive by a defense, jump behind the backboard, and whiz a pass to

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HoopSpeak Live Highlights!

The good folks at Vokle were kind enough to put together some clips from our most recent episode of HoopSpeak Live. Here’s a taste of our new weekly video chat, which allows viewers joining the conversation through text and video.

Highlights include: Ethan’s guinea pig, John Krolik’s impressions of Charles Barkley and Mark Jackson talking about JJ Barea, and even some stuff about basketball from ESPN’s Henry Abbott and Kevin Arnovitz.

Tune in Thursday afternoon, we’ll be chatting again from 2:30-4:00PM EST!


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