After a wide-open first half against the Sacramento Kings that electrified Miami Heat fans with Gerald Green delivering 20 points, the Heat were content to walk the ball up the court in the second half. Predictably that allowed King defenders time to get back into a strong half-court defense, with their defense leading to offense.
Hassan Whiteside attempted just four shots on the net in his 30 minutes on the floor. Clearly with Dwyane Wade out, the Kings focused on neutralizing Whiteside's offensive production at all costs, including tackling him in the painted area.
In the opening half Miami's three-point accuracy, especially by Green, ruined the King's game plan of taking away the Heat's ability to make baskets in the painted area. The Heat didn't need many points in the paint to score a season-high 66 first-half points, when their three-point shot was falling in to draw away defenders from the red zone.
In the first period Sacramento fouled Miami only once, because the Heat shot few contested baskets at the rim. Second period saw the Kings commit only three fouls. During the entire first half, the Heat shot a total of two free throws, because of their phenomenal outside shooting and excellent cuts to the rim.
After half-time though, the Heat obliged Sacramento by dribbling away precious shot-clock seconds on half-court sets, only to wind up hoisting last-second desperation shots. The double-teams on Goran Dragic and Josh Richardson only succeeded because the ball stuck to their hands for more than two seconds. In the NBA, any player that stands still dribbling will be neutralized into making an obvious pick-six pass which defenders easily spot and intercept.
They did this in an effort to score paint points, with alley-oops to Whiteside slamming down dunks as the target. That plan failed miserably as the Kings blocked the Heat's amateur-level entry passes, which did not meet professional standards.
Teams now draw up antidotes for the bench mob. The unpleasant results, as shown by the box score below for the second half, will require counter-punches in the next few games.
To paraphrase Whiteside, his Rocky lost to the Russian in the Sacramento Kings game.
For the entire game, the Heat scored only 10 fast-break points and 36 points in the paint. They went back to their slow pace before the All-Star break, when they were one of the most boring teams in the NBA. The Kings finished the game with 46 points in the paint, 17 fast-break points and 22 second chance points to make an easy Heat victory close.
In the last seven games and the second season, look for every team's game plan to include denying entry passes for Whiteside and company in the red zone. Can Hassan beat his "Russian" in the late rounds of the game, when they all gang up on him, and there is no Wade to the rescue?
The days of alley-oop baskets by Whiteside are gone: teams know that scenario. Quietly though, he has shown flashes he can become a distributor for his teammates cutting to the basket. He learned that knack from watching the veteran moves of Amar'e Stoudemire. Going in to out could be the Heat's unexpected weapon.
The answer to paint-packing defenses lies in getting down the floor quickly for uncontested shots. Heat players were often guilty of ball-watching on missed shots. The extra effort around the rim to score on put-backs or prevent second-chance baskets was not there.
Trying to thread the needle and passing into a crowded half-court defense lead to turnovers and pick-sixes for other teams. Knowing that, coach Erik Spoelstra can use the other team's game plan against them for the last contests in the schedule.
The Clippers lob-city team never won a ring. Teams make game plans to neutralize the damage from dunks, just as keeping alley-opp lobs to Blake Griffin to a minimum lead to the Clippers playoff failures. Instead the Heat can take what what is given them: getting up-court for uncontested, easy baskets. Miami did that in their 39-point first quarter and it succeeded against one of worst defenses in the NBA.
Walking the basketball up the court by over-dribbling almost cost the game to the Kings and may result in a long summer for Heat players watching the NBA Finals on television, if the house isn't put in order quickly.
The other Whiteside, who feeds shooters for open looks, would amaze people even more than his improved free-throw shooting. The end of lob-city could lead to the beginning of championship city.
As a final note, Justise Winslow leads the team at 72 games played, with Wade next at 68. Two more minutes will put him in third place for minutes on the court, ahead of Wade, and just behind Luol Deng and Goran Dragic. Winslow played the second most minutes and has the highest +/- of any rookie in the NBA this season. Can a rookie, off the bench, have a chance to lead the Heat in games and minutes played?
Late-season fatigue was noticeable as Dragic and Winslow were often one step behind their man getting through screens, and not finishing easy baskets at the rim. Perhaps Josh McRoberts, Tyler Johnson(??) and the two additions next week will provide needed rest for starters in the post-season action that begins in only two weeks from today (April 16).