Lowe plainly warns that a team such as Miami, which woefully lacks go-to scorers, the over-reliance on a single set piece, i.e. handoffs, may lead to a power failure against playoff-caliber defenses.
Miami’s non-shooting lineups
Perhaps this amounts to over-fretting, but: It feels chancy whenever the Heat play any two of Dwyane Wade, Justise Winslow and James Johnson with one of their paint-bound centers -- Bam Adebayo and the surly Hassan Whiteside.
But playoff defenses are different animals. They will be ready for Miami’s handoffs and wildcat cutting. Smart defenses delight in the presence of extra non-shooters. The Heat should be mindful of that.
The handoff for a Wayne Ellington field goal attempt off a screen remains a staple set play for the Heat, but in the playoffs when scouting departments do in-depth studies on teams during the four to seven game series, defenses quickly lockdown the other team’s best players, if they can.
During the regular season teams jump from one city to another, having little time for more than a cursory glance at the current status of the enemy.
How often have teams fallen behind two games to none in a playoff series, and then come roaring back to win four games and move on to the next round or a championship?
The answer to that question lies in teams spending time to adjust and prepare between playoff games, to shut down the enemies successful tendencies, while during the hectic moving around of the regular season, players rely mainly on instincts and habits they built up during their years in the NBA.
Lowe highlights a Kelly Olynyk basket from the Heat’s staple handoff play, as Adebayo feeds Olynyk, while Miami runs its usual decoy actions on the court.
Miami runs several versions for Olynyk. Spoelstra is genius about changing the placement, personnel and prelude to Olynyk somehow popping open.
Earlier Lowe lists his top NBA centers, and Whiteside, the Heat’s biggest investment, doesn’t get any respect from him as one of the NBA’s elite big men.
Picking the three All-NBA centers is going to be impossible -- or the last two, for voters who list Anthony Davis at center instead of forward. Good luck picking two among LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, [Nikola] Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Al Horford, Andre Drummond, Steven Adams, Kevin Love, DeAndre Jordan and Clint Capela.
Clint Capela over Whiteside? Hassan better check his self-inflated NBA2K image at the door when outside commentators give their unbiased view that “doing it with blocks” by itself doesn’t earn him minutes on the court.
In fairness to Hassan, the Heat ballhandlers often take too much time dribbling the ball, which gives teams time to send help defenders on him, as Lowe illustrates with a clip of the Indiana Pacers thwarting a late entry pass.
Toggling from one mismatch to another takes time; if you don’t start your offense early in the shot clock, you won’t have enough ticks left to pull it off. Swarming help defenses have made entry passes harder than ever. And again: Chances are that second big isn’t a post-up artist.
But if you have the goods and the time, you should copy this Pacers blueprint.
Defense makes a difference, but championship teams still need to score more points than their enemies, and Zach Lowe warns a team without bona-fide scoring threats may not go far in the playoffs.
Elite NBA teams may take advantage of the Heat’s obsession with defense when Miami loads the floor with non-shooters in post-season action.