Only three games in, defense setting tone for Heat
By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Sports Writer
MIAMI (AP) — Dwight Howard caught the bounce pass in the post midway through the third quarter, spun toward the baseline and tried to overpower his way to the basket.
Dwyane Wade was lurking.
With a vicious right-arm swipe, Wade erased Howard’s shot from behind, sending it to the sideline and giving Orlando’s star a quick smile. Perhaps not coincidentally, Howard leveled Wade on Miami’s next possession, going to the bench with five fouls and taking any chances of a Magic comeback with him.
“Defense,” Wade said, “is where it starts for us.”
That’s what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has been selling, and his players seem to be buying.
Friday night’s 96-70 win marked the first time since March 2004 that Miami held a divisional opponent to such a paltry point total. The Heat forced Orlando into missing 18 of 20 shots in the third quarter, continuing an early season trend. In the first 12 minutes coming out of halftime, teams are shooting a mere 26 percent — 13 for 50 — against Miami through the season’s first three games.
“I don’t think it’s my halftime speeches. I don’t think that’s inspiring the guys,” Spoelstra said. “We are reinforcing some of our habits. We haven’t made too many major changes in schemes at halftime. Really, it’s all about effort with us and our attention to detail. Coming out of halftime, the guys have been very focused.”
Miami (2-1) goes back on the road Sunday to visit New Jersey.
Yes, it’s early — very early — but going into Saturday’s games, the Heat were far and away the NBA’s stingiest team. So far, they’ve given up a mere 81.7 points per game, while Dallas was No. 2 on that list allowing 88.5.
To provide some perspective, Miami has yielded 245 points in three games, one more point than Houston has allowed in its first two contests.
The last time an Orlando team shot worse in a regular-season game than the 30.4 percent effort it put up against Miami on Friday was Nov. 3, 2003.
“Every night is not going to be like this,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem cautioned. “But we had an unbelievable focus. We wanted to fly around, use our speed, our quickness and our athleticism.”
Orlando’s offense was simply abhorrent.
Rashard Lewis’ 0-for-9 showing matched the worst of his career, and Magic coach Stan Van Gundy noted afterward that besides Howard (8 of 15) and reserve Ryan Anderson (5 of 8), the rest of his club shot just 8 for 46.
“Look, their defense was very good. … I give Miami great credit,” Van Gundy said.
Even LeBron James thought it was a bit surprising.
Much of the focus — the outside focus, anyway — about how Wade, James and Chris Bosh will mesh in Miami is on the offensive end of the floor. All three are used to being big-time scorers, and now they’re adapting to a system where each is sharing the ball with more stars than ever before.
The offense hasn’t been flawless, either. Miami is shooting only 41.5 percent, and Bosh is scoring a mere 11.3 points — about half his usual output — through the first three games.
“We know it’s going to be a process,” Spoelstra said.
But inside the locker room, the talk is always about defense.
And when James saw the numbers from Friday, he couldn’t keep a straight face.
“Thirty percent? Every game?” James asked, when told that Spoelstra said what Miami did Friday sets the standard of for his defensive expectations this season. “We just covered for each other. Surprised? When you can see the potential, I can say I’m a little surprised how well we played on both ends of the floor.”
Received 10/30/10 01:09 pm ET