Miami Heat: Is the Team Trading in Defense for Offense?


Oct 30, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat shooting guard Ray Allen (34) drives to the basket as Boston Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett (5) and shooting guard Leandro Barbosa (12) defend during the second half at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 120-107. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

The Miami Heat didn’t exactly make any statements on the defensive end when they acquired 37-year-old Ray Allen, 33-year-old Rashard Lewis, and 275-pound center Josh Harrellson. It was nothing like the splash they made during the 2011 offseason when they signed Shane Battier, inevitably adding on one of the league’s top perimeter defenders. Adding Battier was a move to benefit the defense, while also adding on a formidable three-point threat.

With Allen and Lewis, you have two perimeter threats, a rebounder, a ball-handler and two intelligent post-players. Pat Riley announced going into the 2012 offseason that he wanted to create spacing on the floor and made it a known fact that Allen was going to be his primary target. Allen was nothing like the type of player that would have been a member of the previous two Heat teams; hard-nosed, quick, athletic, and a strong defensive presence.

The Heat finished fourth last season in points given up per game only trailing Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia. They did this in part because of how well Battier proved to be as a backup to LeBron and because of the stingy defense Erik Spoelstra has employed from Pat Riley and his former New York Knick teams that featured presences in Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley.

Although the Heat don’t nearly have the personnel to replicate those two, they compensated by having everyone work together, constantly rotating in order to shut off the paint and force the opponent into a difficult shot.

It also helped that LeBron James was arguably the Defensive Player of the Year after playing at all five positions.

You don’t get that defensive vibe from Allen or Lewis. Neither player has been once regarded as a presence on the defensive end throughout their grandiose careers and for good reason. It’s certainly a change of pace from everyone else you see on this Heat team. Each player in the rotation plays a key role on the defensive end and if they don’t, you usually don’t see much of them.

Remember James Jones? He’s arguably the team’s best shooter and yet you’ll see him on the inactive list throughout the season. Why? Because he’s an awful defender who never fit well into the Heat’s defensive system. The same goes for someone like Dexter Pittman. Sure he’s a big body, but he also can’t defend without fouling and isn’t fast enough on rotations as someone like the 6’9″ Joel Anthony, who the Heat would rather play at center.

Let that tell you something about how much defense means to the Heat. Rather than playing the 6’11”, 270-pound mass that clogs up lanes, the Heat would rather have a shorter Joel Anthony. He’s out there, however, because he’s a much better defender who fits well in the Heat’s defensive scheme of having athletes who can quickly rotate and provide the team with a shadow on pick-and-rolls.

When the Heat signed Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, they traded in their elite defense for an elite offense. Now I am not saying that the Heat won’t be a good defensive team anymore. I am merely pointing out that they are sacrificing giving up 90 points per game to instead giving up 95-100 points, while also scoring 105-110 per night. By giving up two rotation spots to players who aren’t exactly stalwarts on the defensive end, the Heat made it known that they wanted their offense to lead the way.

Miami allowed Boston to shoot 52 percent, gave up 28 free throw attempts and Rajon Rondo to have 13 points, but won the turnover battle 15-8; five of Boston’s 15 coming from Kevin Garnett alone. The Heat have never been the type of team to stop Rajon Rondo and it continued to show in Tuesday night’s victory. That’s not new, but what is new is the team playing so well in the half-court and dispelling the fallacy that is this Heat team being unable to work in that type of offensive setting.

So, how many of Miami’s 120 points came in the fastbreak? 40? 30? Try 12. Barely a dent for an offense that scored 120 points, despite LeBron Jamess having sit out the final ten minutes of the fourth quarter. Even without LeBron, the Heat managed 27 points in the fourth quarter. That’s not something you would see from a Heat team in the past, but it is with the current team that now features a former All-Star in Ray Allen.

ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh wrote an entire article on the topic of one key play that gave momentum to the Heat heading into the half. Following a Chris Bosh block, Shane Battier quickly outlet the ball to LeBron James. Running with James was Allen on his left and Norris Cole to his right, while Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett attempted to decide on who was going to guard Allen, who was heading towards the left corner, and James, who was prepared to steamroll through the lane.

Wires were crossed and James finished with a breakaway dunk. The Celtics, knowing damn well how lethal Allen is in that corner, chose to give LeBron the right-of-way to an easy finish. Allen was a 57 percent shooter from the left corner beyond the arc last year, which was the best shooting percentage of any player from any spot on the floor.

And the Heat are far too fast to for opponents to weigh their decisions. They must decide on if giving a three-pointer to Ray Allen is less of a risk than LeBron or Dwyane streaking down the lane. When the floor becomes that open where opponents must decide on giving up the lesser of two evils, you have put your team in a position to consistently score points.

That’s why the Heat are perfectly content with sacrificing some points for the purpose of scoring even more points in an offense that’s going to rely more heavily on ball movement and spacing on the floor for easy points.

With Allen on the floor, opponents will always be wary of guarding the perimeter, whether it’s on the break or in the half-court. It’s what’s going to lead to a plethora of plays just like the one that featured LeBron with the play of the day.

120 points against the Boston Celtics doesn’t happen too often. In fact, it’s the second most any team has scored against the Celtics since Kevin Garnett joined the team. We could always put in perspective, though, and say the Celtics are getting their legs underneath them, are hurt (they were missing Darko Milicic, Jason Collins and Avery Bradley), or were just facing the Heat on a charged night.

But can’t you say the same of the Heat? A team with two new rotation players and their best shot-blocker out with a hamstring injury isn’t exactly as good as it can get either.

It’s only been one game, but couldn’t this game against the Celtics–a team that nearly beat the Heat in last year’s Conference Finals–be a precursor to what’s in store for every Heat opponent? Barring any injuries, it’s what should end up happening. As long as LeBron James is on this team, opponents are going to have difficulty defending the league’s top player and the myriad of shooters and All-Stars that are surrounding him.

That’s how it’s done, Dan Gilbert.