LeBron James, Heat Beginning to Notice Uncharacteristic Play of Opposing Role Players


Nov 21, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) and shooting guard Dwyane Wade (3) back on defense against the Milwaukee Bucks in overtime at American Airlines Arena. The Heat defeated the Bucks 113-106 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE

In a 113-106 overtime win over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Miami Heat forced the dynamic backcourt duo of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis into 13-of-41 shooting for only 28 points.

Yet the Bucks scored 106 points and were up by seven with five minutes remaining against the Heat. What happened? Rookie John Henson happened. Going into the game against the Heat, Henson had a mere 21 points and eight rebounds in nine games and had completely sat out of five games.

How did he do against Miami? 17 points and 18 rebounds.

Huh? Oh, and Samuel Dalembert, hit the first three-pointer of his decade long career. He had missed all ten of his attempts before then. I don’t need to get into how well big men can shoot against Miami. We all remember two seasons ago when Paul Millsap caught the holy ghost and forgot how to miss three-pointers against Miami, leading the Jazz to an improbable comeback that was sparked by the above-average power forward dropping 46 points.

Blake Griffin, currently a 39 percent jump shooter after shooting 32 percent in the same category last season, shot 4-of-6 from the mid-range against the Heat. The same shots he could never seem to hit against nearly every other team suddenly became automatic, and it allowed the Los Angeles Clippers to compete with the Heat in the first half.

Remember Austin Daye? When his Detroit Pistons played the Heat, Daye had 28 points on 18 shots and converted four three-pointers. His second-highest scoring output for the season that year was 12 points and he scored in double-digits once more following that historic day against Miami.

Let’s go back to the Heat’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. The Heat made it a purpose to make life difficult for Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and they actually did a solid job at it; yielding only two points on six shots to the All-Star center and a pedestrian 18 and 16 night for Randolph.

The Heat lost by 18, and it wasn’t because of Rudy Gay’s 21 points either. No, somehow Wayne Ellington decided that this would be the night to his seven three-pointers on 11 attempts to finish with a career-high 25 points. Following the game, analysts ranted and raved over how much Ellington could mean to the team as a perimeter threat complementing the team’s dangerous interior  presence.

Since shooting 7-of-11 from beyond the arc against Miami, Ellington has converted 1-of-9 in five games, including an 0-of-4 shooting performance against Charlotte only two games later. He had more three-pointers in the game against Miami than he has combined in every single game he’s played in this year.

Want some more anomalies? How about Chandler Parsons going off for a then-career-high 25 points and hitting five three-pointers? Or teammate Marcus Morris suddenly becoming a standout three-point shooter following crucial makes in crunch time?

Anthony Morrow scored 17 points in the Heat’s win over Atlanta and he hasn’t scored in double-digits in any other game.

Jordan Hamilton of the Denver Nuggets dropped three three-pointers on his way to 11 points against the Heat. He hadn’t converted a three-pointer in any game before then and had 12 points combined in eight games prior.

When the Miami Heat prep for a game, they know they’re going to get the best out of their opponent every time. Playing the Heat for some teams may as well be the equivalent to Game 7 of the NBA Finals. They carry this mantra because they have nothing to lose and are extremely motivated.

If they lose, so be it. If they win, though, they can hold their heads up high as the team that took down the mighty Heat.

Of course, some of these performances come as a result of the Heat’s system. John Henson only grabbed 18 rebounds because he’s an athlete with length–something that has given the Heat trouble in the past–and shooters like Ellington, Hamilton and Daye benefit off the Heat’s reluctance to defend the perimeter, instead choosing to limit the oppositions dominance in the interior.

It also happens because of Miami’s defensive philosophy when going into a game. Take the game against Memphis as an example. The Heat made it an issue to limit the influence of Gasol and Randolph in the middle and while they only allowed a combined 20 points from the two players, it allowed Ellington and the rest of Memphis’ new-found shooters to get their rocks off.

LeBron James is beginning to take notice:

"“John Henson is a great player and I think he’s going to be really good. But I watched him two nights before that in Charlotte, and he shot [airballs] over the rim a couple of times on jumpers. But every time against us, he made it. And I watched Memphis against Denver the other night, and the kid, uh, Wayne Ellington, wasn’t making anything. But he’s a great shooter. Against us … at the end of the game, you look at the bottom [of the box score] and it says career-high for John Henson, career-high for Wayne Ellington. And you say, ‘[Shoot], against us.’ It’s crazy.”"

Crazy indeed. You have to imagine that it’s a little bit frustrating for LeBron and his teammates. They put so much time, effort and energy into stopping the opposition’s best players only to see the ninth-man have a career-best of a game. It’s a small sacrifice the Heat have to make, but it’s one that’s going to pay off.

For all of these borderline role players that are going off, you have to remember that these types of things don’t happen a lot. In fact, they happen against the Heat once and the player usually fades off into obscurity. Most importantly is the fact that this Heat team is built for a seven-game series, which basically means that the Heat will allow Ellington to get seven three-pointers because they know it won’t happen for seven games.

These are meaningless regular season games. Each game represents the smallest sample size necessary to make a point and those points usually don’t hold too much water when the games actually begin to matter. As we have seen in the Big Three’s first two years together, the regular season doesn’t bear much significance compared to the postseason when the Heat unleash their best play on both sides.

So when Donald Sloan drops 30 and Tyler Zeller goes for 20-20 when the Cleveland Cavaliers play the Heat Saturday night, don’t fret because this isn’t going to matter.