The 2005-06 NBA Champion Miami Heat led the NBA in rebounding and 2-pt FG%. The Heat's profile this season is closer to that squad than the LeBron James Heat teams of 2011-15. Erik Spoelstra was Pat Riley's assistant coach in 2006: should Spoelstra mimick the successful formula of that glorious campaign?
Instead of Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade, and Udonis Haslem, this edition of the Heat have Hassan Whiteside, Luol Deng and Justise Winslow as their rebounding engines, with Goran Dragic and Wade acting as the finishers at the rim behind the frontcourt's crushing picks. Deng, Winslow, Josh McRoberts, Amar'e Stoudemire, Udonis Haslem all provide the Heat a rebounding powerhouse to clean up on missed shots.
Oddly the absence of Chris Bosh has motivated the team to perform at another level to compensate for the loss of an All-Star's production. Given more minutes and higher usage rates, the rotation players have taken it upon themselves go after the ball aggressively knowing their safety valve is dealing with a serious medical condition.
Collecting 67 and 66 rebounds their first two games after the All-Star break, in addition to the 100 FGA versus the Indiana Pacers, the Heat beat their opponents with sheer energy and controlling the flow of the game by maintaining possession of the ball. Coincidentally, they scored over 100 points in all of their four games after the All-Star break, with the only loss a closely fought contest to the Warriors. They controlled a large portion of the game in their eventual loss to the Golden State Warriors, who are chasing history to have the NBA's greatest single season record.
The motivating factor for Wade and Haslem (who have longest tenure, at 14 years, of teammates starting their careers with the same team in NBA history) would be to win a fourth ring a decade after their first: living a rarely achieved dream. Overcoming the dominant Warriors, Spurs, Cavaliers, Thunder, Raptors seems like Mission Impossible, but following the Riley and Spoelstra blueprint from 2006, the Heat may have found a winning formula.
In 2006 big men O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning each shot 60% from the field, which equals making 3-pointers at a 40% rate. The team leader in rebounds was Haslem (634), not O'Neal (541), while Wade was a surprising third (430). Adding Winslow as a small forward this season changes the profile of the team to one of ball control through rebounding and limiting turnovers, because great defense starts with keeping the ball out of the opponent's hands in the first place. Other teams cannot score if they do not have the ball, because rebounds deny opponents chances to make 3-point baskets in this age of elite shooters and the 24-second clock.
Whiteside is exhibiting a joy in setting legal picks to let his teammates get high-percentage finishes at the rim. Having Haslem, Stoudemire, Winslow as rock-solid screen-setters, the Heat can rank among the best in scoring percentage, with finishers such as Dragic, Wade, Green, Deng, McRoberts, Richardson being able to go downhill for a basket.
Richardson is a long-limbed flash redux getting to the rim, when he stays out of foul trouble.
Riley, Spoelstra, Wade, Haslem are still present to show the newcomers how they combined to win the 2006 trophy, which came mainly through being the best rebounding and second-best shooting team in the NBA. The Heat have the personnel to do that now, as they proved in the games following the All-Star break.