Two Blowout Losses in Seven Games; Should the Heat be Worried?


Nov 11, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) shoots the ball during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Memphis Grizzlies defeat the Miami Heat 104-86. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden–US PRESSWIRE

For the second time in seven games, the Miami Heat were run out of the building because of an absurd amount of three-pointers being made at a disturbingly high percentage by their opponent.

The Memphis Grizzlies didn’t set an opponent’s record for three-pointers made like the Knicks did when they made 19 in their 104-84 win. Instead, they made an uncharacteristic amount of three’s and used the strong tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol inside to open up the floor for a bombardment of three’s from the likes of Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, and, somehow, Wayne Ellington. Gasol and Gay combined for 22 rebounds and made the Heat pay for the extra attention being implemented in the interior.

As a result, Miami actually played above-average defense considering the interior matchups. Marc Gasol, a first-time All-Star last year, finished with a mere two points on six shots, while Randolph recorded an average day of 18 points on 16 shots. However, their influence on the boards, as well as Gasol dishing out six dimes, led to the Heat’s demise as they constantly dared the Grizzlies shooters to take shots from deep.

It wasn’t a bad idea. Up until Sunday, the Grizzlies hadn’t made ten or more three-pointers in a game in two years. What ended up transpiring was Memphis converting 15, the most the team has hit in five seasons. Throw in the fact that they also missed only ten attempts from deep, and the Heat missing 14 free throws, and there’s an obvious reason as to why they ended up winning by 18 points.

Wayne Ellington shot 7-of-11 from beyond the arc and finished with a game-high 25 points in 27 minutes off the bench. To put it in perspective, Ellington’s previous career high was 18 points and had converted 4-of-13 from beyond the arc leading into his team’s matchup with the Heat. He has always been a solid shooter, but that type of production isn’t usually expected from someone who shot 32 percent from beyond the arc last season.

Let’s also not forget that he had failed to shoot 43 percent or better from the field in his first three NBA seasons.

Shooters just tend to shoot well when playing against the Heat. It arises out of Miami’s defensive philosophy of packing the paint and daring opponents to shoot, as well as these opponents simply making wide-open jumpers over-and-over again. I’ll throw out my own theory as well: Opponents play well against the Heat because they’re playing against the Heat.

You’re playing the best team in the world in front of your fans. Naturally there’s a desire to play above and beyond on both sides of the ball, and that includes the borderline rotation players such as Ellington and Jerryd Bayless. Even though they are players who have jumped from team-to-team, they are still NBA players who are capable of going off on any night. Unfortunately for the Heat, they have  a target on their back in every game and every player on the opposite side wants to take their best shot.

Miami should just be thankful that shooting displays like that don’t last seven games.

Similar results occurred earlier this season when the New York Knicks used exquisite ball movement and pristine shooting to defeat the Heat by 20 in an emotionally-charged home opener. New York attempted 36 three-pointers and converted 19 of them. Steve Novak convertied five and Carmelo Anthony made all four of his in a first quarter that featured the Heat facing a 16-point deficit going into the second frame.

Surprisingly, the Heat rank 29th in three-pointers allowed at nine per game. The Charlotte Bobcats are somehow allowing over ten. In three-point percentage, the Heat rank 27th and are allowing their opponents to convert 39 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. Miami also ranks 28th in three-point attempts allowed, only behind the Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks.

This three-point shooting concern isn’t new. In fact, it’s been a consistent problem of Miami’s in the Erik Spoelstra-era and it comes as a result of the Heat attempting to compensate for their lack of size by placing greater emphasis on stopping drives and limiting second-chance points. The Knicks converted 19 three-pointers against Miami this year and ended up breaking the previous record of 18 conversions in a loss last season.

It’s no secret that elite ball movement will give the Heat problems. The Knicks thrived off of Raymond Felton’s nine assists in their win and the Grizzlies were nearly unstoppable with Conley’s nine assists, Gasol’s six, and Rudy Gay’s five. On 38 converted field-goals, the Grizzlies had 26 assists and turned the ball over on 14 occasions. Even with turnovers, the staggering amount of passes that directly led to made shots is a harrowing stat the Heat should take notice of.

And that wasn’t even the Heat’s worst defensive display in terms of assists leading to field-goals. The Knicks converted 36 field-goals and had 27 assists with only 12 turnovers. By comparison, the Nuggets had 13 assists on 49 field-goals, the Suns had 22 assists on 35 field-goals, Brooklyn had 12 assists on 30 field-goals, and Atlanta had 20 assists on 34 field-goals in their contest’s against the Heat.

Easier said than done, but the Heat losing games comes down to how well they react to their opponent’s ball movement. The Grizzlies and Knicks made mincemeat out of the Heat because guys like Raymond Felton and Mike Conley were allowed to penetrate the lane and kick-out to open three-point shooters, as a result of the defense collapsing. It falls on how well the Heat are defending pick-and-rolls and not allowing point guards to constantly beat the likes of Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole off-the-dribble.

My, what a coincidence. Chalmers played 19 minutes and had six fouls in the Heat’s loss to New York and played only 23 minutes in the recent loss to Memphis. In every other game, Mario played at least 26 minutes. A few of Chalmers’ opponents were still able to get their rocks off–Goran Dragic with nine assists and Jeff Teague with 11–but weren’t exactly leading offense’s as efficiently as Conley and Felton were. In fact, the Suns only had seven three-pointers and the Hawks with nine in those two outings.

The Heat’s backcourt in general needs to perform better. Mario, as well as the rest of this Heat defense, needs to do a better job at keeping point guards out of the lane and Dwyane Wade needs to do better than scoring eight points on 15 shots, while allowing his assignment to go off for what will probably be the greatest game of his career.

Fortunately, it’s November and that means there’s a whole lot more regular season basketball to be played before we get to the season that actually matters.