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Breaking down the Heat's defensive woes against the Hawks

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A deeper look at what went wrong against Atlanta and what that could mean going forwards.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

After spending the next 24 hours sulking about a truly terrible defensive performance against the Atlanta Hawks, I decided to take a deeper peek in to what went wrong for the Heat on Wednesday night.

If you watched the game, you probably spent a good amount of time cursing at Hawks guards Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder for obliterating the Heat - they combined for a ridiculous 43 points and 9 assists on 14-20 shooting (and 5-8 on threes, just for good measure).  The biggest question I had was how the heck does that happen?  Teague and Schroder are both good players, but you have big problems if you can't even come close to stopping either of them.

The first thing that stood out to me was that the Heat seemed preeeetty uninterested in executing transition defense.  Rule #1 of defending in transition: STOP THE BALL.  Here's two instances of the Heat not stopping Jeff Teague until the free throw line.  That's unacceptable.  Both end in easy layups.

Rule #2 of defending in transition? Protect the rim.  Let's see an awesome example of the Heat doing just that! (Hint: This is not really the Heat doing just that).

Deng is late getting back here leaving Shawne Williams with the task of worrying about both Kyle Korver in the corner and Paul Millsap running the floor.  Williams shades too far towards Korver allowing Millsap to just walk down the lane for an easy layup.  Korver is a huge threat, no doubt, but you'd rather Teague throw the ball across the court here and recover to that than try and close out on Millsap as he lays it in.

These issues so far are all pretty easy fixes.  Stop the ball in transition is something that all basketball players are taught, so I think it's safe to assume that this was just a bad night and this issue will get fixed.

One area that needs a lot of work, however, is pick and roll defense.  In this first example, I really have no idea what Shawne Williams is hoping to accomplish with his positioning.

Williams does basically nothing here to impede Teague from getting to the basket, leaving Napier essentially on an island.  Here's what comes next:

It's not a great picture (sorry, I'm new at this, gosh), but that would be Shawne Williams covering Pero Antic (big time scorer, might I add) as Teague goes past Shabazz Napier towards feared rim protector Danny Granger.  In the future, Williams has to get a step closer to the paint here so that Teague doesn't get in to the lane so easily, especially while Bosh is forced to worry about Millsap, a good three-point shooter.  You'd much rather have Pero Antic shooting anything than Jeff Teague getting a floater in the lane.

Moving on, Atlanta is a pretty terrible matchup for Dwyane Wade on the defensive end.  He isn't quick enough to stick on Teague or Schroder at this point in his career, and he isn't capable of chasing Korver around screens all night.

Anyways, that isn't the biggest issue with this next picture.  What the heck is Wade doing here?

You'll never guess what happens next: Jeff Teague, realizing Dwyane Wade is being foolish, drives left and gets in to the lane with ease.  And then ...

Yes, that would be Mario Chalmers staring at the ball as Kyle Korver, only one of the best shooters in the NBA, relocates to the wing where he proceeds to hit a wide open three.  That's just bad.

One more example:

Things don't start off so bad on this play.  Here we see Dwyane Wade getting screened by Millsap (not great, but hey, it happens).  The good news is that Udonis Haslem is there to help on the driving Dennis Schroder!

And that's when things start going bad.

Dennis Schroder turns the corner, annnddd...

Let's play a little game of "What happens next":

A) Dennis Schroder layup

B) No more options because A was such an obvious answer

Haslem doesn't necessarily do anything wrong here - he just has no chance against Schroder when he turns the corner like that.  That's an issue that every Heat big not named Chris Bosh had against this team - they just aren't quick enough to get in front of their guards, and it killed the Heat all night.  While this particular play ends in a Schroder layup, you can see the ill effects of a guy getting in to the lane like that developing.  Bosh is forced to slide over, leaving Horford for a potential dunk.  Napier leaves Teague open for a three.  Wade starts to cheat in to the point where Millsap could get an open look if the ball moves quick enough.

The takeaway from all this, to me, is that the Heat guards are not doing a good enough job of keeping the ball out of the paint.  Teams aren't killing the Heat with points in the paint - the Heat rank 14th in the league in points in the paint per game - the real issue is what that opens up.  Opponents are getting 25% of their points off of threes this year against the Heat, the fourth highest percentage in the league, and a big reason for that is that once the ball gets inside it opens up passing lanes for opposing guards to find their shooters.  Against a team like the Hawks where virtually everybody on the floor is a capable three-point shooter it's nearly impossible to defend them if you don't stop them from getting inside.

While some of Miami's issues are strictly effort based, the Heat will need to adjust their scheme to their personnel and find a way to keep teams out of the paint in the future.

(All pictures in this article came from NBA.com).