Clippers ready for big test against Miami

The Miami Heat’s coach, Eric Spolstra, has adopted what he calls a “position-less philosophy.” Basically, that means there are five multi-positional players playing the game on instinct. It is not as random as it sounds though. The very conventional plays and basketball philosophies still remain. The game is still played from the inside out and there are still set positions for the players on the court. The difference is you never know what player is going to be in that position.

It is not the plays that make this philosophy different, it is the players. Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James are all extremely versatile, athletic and unselfish. You have two of the best slashers in the league in Wade and James and you have the best outside shooting five in Bosh. Wade and Bosh can play 2 to 3 positions and always have a significant advantage in every matchup. But the real key is James; he can play all five positions. He always has a mismatch advantage and any position he plays becomes the point and initiator of the offense.

Any discussion of the Miami Heat always starts on the defensive end. This position-less philosophy extends to the defense also. They are defined by defensive intensity and extreme pressure. This allows them to limit opponents’ good shots and get out into the open court where their overall athleticism creates a devastating attack.

They are a very different team from last year. The Miami Heat is leading the NBA in points scored but second to last in points allowed.

When I played for Pat Riley of the New York Knicks, he always says that it was the “change” that beat people. What he meant by that was how quickly you could change from offense to defense or from defense to offense. The team that mentally changes quicker and puts the physical effort behind that has an extreme advantage. The Miami Heat spends time on this every day. They have multiple ball handlers and an exceptionally fast team, allowing a very quick transitional game both defensively and offensively.

Miami also added Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, two multi-positional players that can spread the court for James and Wade. Miami has many role players that can shoot and live off the open shots created by Miami’s big three. They also lack a true center, but Bosh has thrived at the five spot because of his size, versatility and outside shooting ability.

Spolstra is setting up a read and react system on both ends of the court. To make this work you must have very skilled athletic players with a very high basketball IQ. This is similar to Rick Adelman’s old corner offense in Portland that Spoelstra saw while growing up. Adelman had very versatile basketball players, led by Clyde Drexler, which kept the defense guessing as to where the attack would come from.

This position-less philosophy also reminds me of the Showtime Lakers of the 80’s. When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was not on the floor, they had players like Spencer Haywood, Bob Macado and Michael Thompson to play center. That allowed Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Michael Cooper and co. to freelance and create as they saw fit. James is the closest reincarnation of Magic, a player so versatile that he can dominate a game from any of five positions.

The Heat will be playing the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night. There may not be two more athletic, exciting teams in the NBA today. The Clippers play much more conventionally as they typically get the ball in Chris Paul’s hands, spread the wings and have a low post. The Clippers play mostly pick and roll, letting the NBA’s best point guard, CP3 create and dictate the offense. But they also have Blake Griffin, the most athletic big man in the game today, except maybe for his running mate DeAndre Jordan, who has been dominant lately, playing like a third All-Star.

All NBA championship roads currently lead through the Miami Heat but the Clippers are full of stars and are playing as well as anybody in this early season. The battle should be epic and perhaps a preview of a finals matchup in June.