Ray Allen keeps Heat winning despite defensive troubles

Ray Allen saves a loose ball - Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Although the Heat in general and Ray Allen particularly have struggled on defense, Miami has established a best-in-the-East 10-3 record thanks to Allen.

Ray Allen has already made two game-winning 3s for the Miami Heat this season. His four-point play against the Denver Nuggets enabled Miami to squeak by despite playing bad defense and getting pummeled on the glass. And most recently, Allen's 3 Saturday gave Miami a close win after the Heat played down to the level of a Cleveland Cavaliers team without Kyrie Irving.

Yes, the Heat's play so far -- just short of a month into the regular season -- has been underwhelming at times. Miami currently ranks twenty-third in defense efficiency -- the bottom third of the NBA. In addition to lollygagging against weaker competition, the Heat have mostly withered against the stronger teams. Grantland's Zach Lowe and others have shown that Miami's defense plays much worse when Allen steps onto the court. Lowe even pondered whether Allen "has the physicality and speed" to fit in with Miami's defensive system.

But on the offensive end of the floor, Allen has delivered. And that's been enough for wins in November.

Allen may be 37 years old, but he's still found ways to score aside from open 3-point shots. In the fourth quarter of the Heat/Cavs game, Allen came off a curl at the top of the key and rolled into the paint. No one rotated to cover Allen, and Dwyane Wade easily found the 6-foot-5 shooting guard with an in-bounds pass. On the Heat possession just prior to Allen's 3 decisive against Cleveland, the former Connecticut standout drove baseline and converted on a three-point play. Cleveland succeeded in running Allen off the 3-point line, but failed to keep him from getting to the basket.

Three-point tries have accounted for 49 percent of Allen's overall attempts, but he's more dynamic than Mike Miller, James Jones or Shane Battier. In recent games, Erik Spoelstra has rested Wade and LeBron James together. During these stretches -- aside from running the offense through Chris Bosh -- the Heat have had Allen come off screens at the elbow for mid-range shots. Allen forces opposing defenses from keying in on one player for extended stretches of time - a persistent detriment to the Heat during the ends and starts of quarters.

Although Allen has shown his diverse offensive skill set, he has shot 53 percent from beyond the arc this season. The 3-point shot is a vital component to any good offense, and his long-range shooting has helped Miami immensely. As I mentioned in my recap to the Nov. 3 Heat/Nuggets game, Allen made back-to-back 3s in 41 seconds to turn a six-point deficit into a tie midway through the fourth quarter. In the Heat/Cavs game, James and Allen each made a 3 in a span of 35 seconds to cut turn a 94-86 game to 92-94. These examples -- Miami coming back from semi-comfortable late leads in a matter of seconds -- illustrate the power of the 3-pointer.

Miami will have another chance to beat a good team Thursday night in a meeting with the San Antonio Spurs. The Heat should and most likely will play better defense as the regular season wears on. But Miami has built up a 10-3 record despite the defensive lapses thanks in large part to Allen's offensive contributions inside and outside the arc.

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