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Heat must replicate small-ball success to match Leicester City's historic run

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The Heat are seen as an opening act for Cleveland's eventual showdown with the Warriors but can they get past Toronto and LeBron with their new style of play?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation recently featured a story titled, "Leicester City's Premier League championship is one of the greatest sports stories of all time." To put their title in perspective, another SB Nation article wrote, "No one saw this coming at the start of the season -- the Foxes defied 5000-to-1 odds, the same odds that the bookies have on Elvis Presley being found alive this year."

The Miami Heat obviously have better odds than Leicester City to win the NBA title at 66-to-1, second to last behind the Portland Trail Blazers at 100-1 odds over at Bovada. Can the Heat match Leicester City's unimaginable run?

Assuming Hassan Whiteside will be out for remainder of the series, in addition to game 5 in Toronto, the Miami Heat will need to replicate their small-ball success again and again. Including the season's final match-up between the Heat and the Raptors, four of their last five games have been decided in overtime, with each team winning twice. In his post-game interview, Joe Johnson gave the key for the Heat to win the series and title this year.

Question: "How was the adjustment without Hassan [Whiteside] out there?"

Answer: "[Hassan] covers up a lot of mistakes....As perimeters [defenders] you really have to take the initiative to guard our guys on the perimeter and keep the bigs off the glass."

With Whiteside in the game to guard the rim, the other Heat defenders subconsciously felt they could relax and make mistakes, confident that he would erase their errors. This leads to the paradoxical result of Heat defense being worse with Whiteside on the court.

Johnson later mentions how the Heat used the Leicester City formula, "Doing whatever we could, man, to get stops so we can get out for some easy baskets and help." Skysports said the same tactics, describing how Leicester City won differently.

"In a complete reverse to the traditional style employed by Premier League winners, the Foxes were happy for their opponents to have the ball for long periods before using the pace of Jamie Vardy and co to do the damage on the break.

The approach is reflected in Leicester's low possession and passing stats - the rest of the top five rank among the league's best in these criteria. But when Leicester did have the ball they made it count."

This follows Erik Spoelstra's mantra of defense leading to offense, but cranked up to an ultra-elite level. The low-possession angle would run against Goran Dragic and others dribbling the ball around the painted area, to eventually become trapped in the corner and turn the ball over.

Tom Thibodeau's teams used the "ICE" principle, as explained by this SB Nation video (that criticizes Heat's defensive rotations), to force players into the corners where the lines act as an additional defenders stopping the ball-handler. Heat shootarounds are too quiet and slow: play Prince soundtracks at maximum volume to mimic the fast-pace and ear-piercing conditions of game-time situations, where chaos reigns, to become comfortable in times of stress.

Luol Deng as middle linebacker

With over 15,000 people yelling a fever pitch, Heat players on the court cannot hear each other and make mindless turnovers. Because of his training in Chicago under Thibodeau, Luol Deng is suited serving as the Heat's equivalent to football's vocal middle linebacker or soccer's midfield general. Considering Deng's long tenure as one the Bull's defensive hawks, his role as Miami's mini-5 makes sense in keeping teammates alert on switches.

The article later on mentioned Leicester City's altered style of play, where they won 1-0 five times in six matches.

"However, as the title-race pressure told, there was a clear shift from the open, expansive football of high-flying underdogs to a more solid, clinical approach which reflected Leicester's determination to capitalise on their strong start to the campaign."

Miami's winning five of Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Justise Winslow, Joe Johnson, and Deng, cannot play 48 minutes per game to get the ten wins necessary for a title, let alone a victory in tomorrow's Game 5 in Toronto. Spoelstra somehow needs to have other players step up to assume individual accountability on defense, because the Whiteside boat in the paint has burned down to forgive mistakes by perimeter defenders.

David Ramil wrote on HotHotHoops last year how Pat Riley burnt his boats.

"Riley's contributions to the championship can't be understated - whether it was the '15 Strong' motto that cemented the team's focus or his incomparable line when the Heat traveled to Dallas for the last two games of the championship series. Behind Wade, the Heat had built a 3-2 series lead and had one of two games to pull out the deciding victory. Riley, confident in his team, told reporters that all he was packing for Dallas was 'one shirt, one suit, one tie,' meaning he'd only need one game to emerge as a champion."

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