Erik Spoelstra stresses grit and hard work, yet unless the Miami Heat players understand its importance, the team may run around aimlessly.
Intelligent basketball players work the hardest because they know there are no short cuts to beat other teams who want to win also. Players who lack the smarts comprehending the role that dedication plays in honing their basketball skills are destined to have brief careers in the NBA. The brightest players on the team also show the most effort on and off the court.
The undrafted Tyler Johnson has been a revelation, not only for his hustle, but his uncanny sense of anticipation of where the ball is going to be. His youthful athleticism combined with being one step ahead of the defender in getting to the ball makes him a top-notch rotation player. Despite being cut for last year's opening day roster, Johnson has demonstrated to be a quick study of basketball concepts and might even earn him some votes as Most Improved Player of the Year.
Hassan Whiteside has a new role on the Miami Heat as a decoy. Being a threat to dunk any lob near the rim, defenses give more space to Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic to operate in the painted area. Whiteside scored only twelve points versus the Minnesota Timberwolves, but left the door open for Wade and Dragic to combine for over 40 points by keeping their defenders honest, because he is a threat to catch a lob from them and score himself.
The Heat have the second highest field goal percentage in the NBA within five feet of the rim because defenders cannot collapse around Whiteside, Chris Bosh, Wade or Dragic knowing any of them can score at the rim. This is not strictly a pick-and-roll, but more of a read-and-react offense where the ball handler judges which player the defender is going to leave open for a score.
Dragic is getting much more comfortable knowing how to use Bosh and Whiteside in the paint as decoys. Josh McRoberts still has to adapt from his preferred role as a facilitator to being more of a scoring threat to keep defenses honest. Otherwise, teams will simply block his passing lanes and make him ineffective. Once McRoberts and Justise Winslow get more aggressive attacking the rim, they will open up the floor for easy shoots for themselves and others.
The Heat showed their versatility by overwhelming the Houston Rockets with Whiteside scoring 25 points and then using him as decoy against the Timberwolves for Wade and Dragic to score 40+ points. The loss against Atlanta resulted from the inability to stop the speedy Jeff Teague in the paint and being stymied by the Hawks league-leading defense in the paint area: what worked against the Rockets didn't succeed against the Hawks.
Heat have the versatility to adapt their strategy against whatever team they are facing. The Pacers are an older, slower and more experienced team than the Timberwolves, so another approach is necessary to beat them. Winslow played 36 minutes and could show some fatigue on a back-to-back vs Indiana. The Heat have enough depth to counter the main threats from Paul George and Monta Ellis, who are a totally different combo than Ricky Rubio and Karl-Anthony Towns.
The Pacers surely saw all the tricks the Heat used against the young Minnesota team, but the Heat will be ready with other weapons from their arsenal for Friday's game.