The Miami Heat played with fire and finally got burned … badly. Poor defense matched with the inability to sink shots when they mattered most resulted in the first loss of this postseason for Miami. To say Heat fans were expecting to easily sweep through the playoffs is outlandish, but the Heat did put together an impressive run that made fans wonder if their high level of play could be sustained.
Coach Erik Spoelstra has dug into his bag of tricks and changed up the rotations for the second round against the veteran Brooklyn Nets, changing up the offensive style from the first round. Of course you have to sink shots to win games, and it helps if the opponent isn’t sinking theirs, but could this change in play style affect the Heat going forward?
The Heat steamrolled through the Charlotte Bobcats in the first round, getting great production and rim protection from Udonis Haslem. They were also lucky enough to get many great minutes from James Jones, who had been stored on Spoelstra’s "Break in case of emergency" cabinet for most of the regular season along with Michael Beasley, who I argued for in favor of more playing time last week. Shane Battier did not see as much playing time in the first round as we are used to him playing both in the regular season as well as in previous playoff experiences.
The reasoning was simple and very easy to understand. Spo wanted to put Haslem on a hobbled Al Jefferson and use James Jones to sink 3’s from all around the arc. We could guess that since the Bobcats are not known for being particularly great shooters and make the most of their abilities on the defensive end, the Heat would be able to hide Jones on defense, which is not his strongest area. Battier then became the odd man out. Since the Heat were going to use Haslem and Jones and extend their rotation, there would be no room for Battier.
But round one is over. The opponent has changed and with it the offensive and defensive styles have changed as well. The Nets do not feature a big man who can consistently kill them in the painted area, with All-Star Brook Lopez sidelined with foot injuries. This alone means that there wouldn’t be as much use for Haslem, who was starting games in the first round. The Nets do however feature a strong wing core that includes Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. Haslem would not be as effective if he were forced to cover Pierce who, in his advanced age, is still able to be mobile with the ball and sink shots from the perimeter. Haslem had completely dropped out of the rotation, replaced by Shane Battier who had gone from taking DNP’s in the first round to starting in the second.
This defensive switch is understandable, an excellent adjustment by Coach Spo. As well as the tough defense Battier brings he also has the ability to knock down many shots from behind the arc. Only one problem … the shots aren’t falling.
If we’re being honest, besides chucking 3’s and seting screens, there’s not much else Battier can do on the offensive end. If the shots aren’t falling then the Heat are essentially playing 4-on-5 on the offensive end, putting them at a scoring disadvantage against a team who already loves to slow the game down and clog the paint. The fact of the matter is that in this series, Chris Bosh, Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers aren’t hitting their 3’s so it’s not all Battier’s fault, though he does play a factor. The Nets on the other hand are hitting a lot of them, a red hot 15 for 25 in the 14-point Game 3 loss the Heat suffered Saturday.
The solution? JAMES JONES. And no, this is not one of those "break in case of emergency" moments, with Spo fearfully shaking with tiny red mallet in hand. Jones is a flat out shot taker and a darn good shot maker. Even LeBron James agrees that Jones must play more minutes as he vouched for him in an interview taken after shootaround.
Of the 16 3’s he took in the first round, he hit seven of them. Jones also saw his first action of the second round last night albeit in garbage time when the Heat had no real chance at a comeback. He went on to hit all three of his 3’s, just another ho-hum night for the gunslinger. In the Heat's offense, which is mostly predicated on LeBron driving and finding the open man it is imperative that the shooter find the bottom of the net. For Jones to be hitting just about 1 of every 2 shots he takes in this postseason there should be no reason why he should be riding the bench.
Spoelstra is going to have to make a tough decision: either stick with Battier for his defensive prowess and hope that he heats up from behind the arc, or go to Jones, a proven scorer but a bit of a liability on the defensive end.
This is not to say that all of the problems will be solved if Jones were to be added into the fold, but I think it would greatly increase the amount of open threes the Heat would be able to net in Game 4 after an anemic showing in their first playoff game in Brooklyn.