With elimination near, Miami Heat desperate for defense
MIAMI — The Carmelo Anthony talk is out there.
Whether LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and/or Chris Bosh opt out of their contracts is another mystery yet to be unlocked.
But those storylines will be played out over the coming weeks.
Of a more pressing concern for the Miami Heat is what they can do to stay alive in the 2014 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and can clinch their fifth NBA title since 1999 with a home win Sunday night.
This series turned around when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich inserted forward Boris Diaw into the starting lineup once the series moved to Miami, benching center Tiago Splitter.
San Antonio is 2-0 since then, winning both of the games in Miami by a combined 40 points.
"Coming to Miami, I was expecting to get one of these two games," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said after Thursday’s rout. "But two games like this? I never expected it."
Neither did the Heat, but the question for Miami coach Erik Spoelstra going forward is simple: What adjustments can and should be made to change the trajectory of this series?
Spoelstra has said he will review everything and that virtually no idea is out of bounds.
Given that, here are a few problems and potential solutions for the Heat:
Problem: In its three losses, the Heat defense has allowed 110, 111 and 107 points, respectively. The Spurs have shot 58.8, 59.4 and 57.1 percent in those three games.
The Heat’s modus operandi on defense is to trap aggressively, create turnovers and get out on the fast break, where James and Wade are lethal.
But the Spurs are such a good passing team, they have invited the trap, lured the Heat defenders in and then moved the ball quickly and efficiently until they get an open look.
That became easier once they inserted Diaw into the lineup, borrowing a recipe from the Heat cookbook by going smaller.
James noted that Diaw, who had nine assists in Game 4, is like an extra point guard on the court, or at least a point forward. The Spurs have mostly used just one post player at a time, generally Tim Duncan or Splitter. The other four players are all capable of passing, ball-handling and shooting from the perimeter.
Possible solution: The Heat can pull away from the trapping philosophy and play more straight-up defense.
Also, they can insert forward Udonis Haslem into the starting lineup. Haslem is a defense-first player. And while he may hurt the spacing on offense, he would figure to give the team the necessary defensive mindset, toughness and gritty desire to stay alive.
Problem: In the first quarters of the four games, the Heat have been outscored by a combined 38 points.
In an issue that may be related to the problem listed above, Heat point guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole have been outscored 108-28 by Spurs counterparts Tony Parker and Patty Mills.
Solution: Lineup changes may be in order.
If Chalmers is benched, it would surprise no one at this point. Cole could get the start, with Toney Douglas in reserve.
James could be used on Parker late in games. But that probably only works in short bursts. Chasing Parker around the court for long stretches might sap James of the energy he needs on offense.
If Cole does get the start, that would represent a huge opportunity for him. Chalmers is a free agent after this season, and Cole, who has two championship rings in his only two years in the league, surely wants to show he has the goods to be an NBA starter.
Problem: With all the emphasis on the Heat’s defense, slow starts and poor play at point guard, Miami’s lack of offense has gone without as much scrutiny.
But the fact remains that in their three losses, the Heat has scored 95, 92 and 86 points, respectively. Their shooting percentage in those games: 47.4, 51.6 and 45.1.
During the regular season, the Heat averaged 102.2 points and led the NBA with a 50.1 shooting percentage.
But in this series, Miami is getting very little penetration inside. The Spurs have outscored the Heat in the paint by a combined total of 34 points in Miami’s three losses.
Solution: The Heat need to get out on the fast break, which is much easier said than done. They had 19 fast-break points in the first loss, which wasn’t bad. But in the two losses in Miami, the Heat tallied a combined total of just 11 fast-break points.
The Spurs were missing so few shots that it left scant opportunities for Miami to push the offense and run. So the Heat’s defense — perhaps with increased minutes for Haslem, Cole, Douglas and others of that mind-set — can make for improved offense.
Or, Spoelstra can go another way, and insert offense-first players such as Michael Beasley and James Jones.
Granted, going that route would be an act of desperation because Spoelstra hasn’t shown all season that he trusts Beasley on the defensive end. So now he’s going to opt to use Beasley in the team’s most important game of the season?
It seems dubious and yet possible, and such is the Heat’s predicament.