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Miami is a defensive juggernaut. But will it last?

Oct 30, 2010, 2:53 PM EDT


Right now, the Miami Heat are the best defensive team in basketball.

Yes, we know — you have to be careful about what kind of conclusions you draw from a team three games into a season. Small sample size alert. And it also depends on how you count the numbers — Basketball-Reference has them the best at 90.3 points per possession, Hoopdata has them seventh at 92.7.

But nobody who watched the second half of last night’s Miami blowout would argue that the Heat are a defensive power — Orlando shot 7 for 36 in the second half, and Miami converted those misses into transition points. And Miami — with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James — are to be feared in transition.

The question is, can Miami keep it up? The deeper stats at Hoopdata have some conflicting answers.

The Heat are aggressive defensively. Right now the Heat are making defensive plays — getting the steal, blocking the shot, taking the charge. Miami’s defensive play rate of 19.1 per 100 shows the Heat aggression — they are getting the steal or the block basically one-in-five times down the court. That is fourth best in the league.

That translates to fast break points the other way. And remember what we said about the Heat in transition.

The Heat can and almost certainly will keep up this aggressive play. They pride themselves on being aggressive.

But there are other numbers that raise doubts about if they can sustain this level of success.

Right now Miami is letting teams get to the rim — 25.5 shots per game that are layups or dunks, which is ninth most in the league. However, when teams get there they are shooting just 54.9 percent at the rim, fifth lowest percentage in the league.

Usually, teams with big front lines are ones that can both keep teams from shooting at the rim and keep them shooting a low percentage when they get there (teams keeping opponents to a lower shooting percentage at the rim than Miami include the Lakers, Nets and Nuggets, which are long front lines).

It is unlikely Miami keeps those numbers up. Either they will start to keep people away from the rim or teams will start to finish better. And score more points, and limit those fast break opportunities.

By the same count, Miami is forcing teams to take only 15.5 long two-pointers per game, shots from 16 feet out to the arc that are the least efficient in basketball. The Heat are sixth worst in the league right now in that category. It’s hard to be an efficient defense if you don’t force teams into inefficient shots.

But three games in, the Heat are that. We will see if it lasts.

  1. thestudiokida - Oct 30, 2010 at 3:42 PM

    We look silly now for spending the summer predicting ridiculous offensive stats; turns out the Heat aren’t worried about the offense. James, Wade & Bosh were rotating on defense before Orlando could pass the ball and James especially seemed to be all over the defensive court.

    The only thing to stop this defense would be an injury or lack of effort, but Spoelstra will do his best to keep the strong effort going.

  2. david8726 - Oct 30, 2010 at 6:47 PM

    The rim defense is something that I think will remain very good.

    I wouldn’t call Miami’s frontline small. Bosh is 7 feet and has been playing much better defense than we’re used to seeing this year. Z obviously comes off the bench and remains a threat at the rim, as immobile as he now is.

    Joel Anthony may only be 6-9, but his greatest strength is blocking shots. Obviously LeBron and Dwyane are the two best shot blockers at their respective positions. Drawing charges is one of Haslem’s strengths.

    There isn’t one guy who is really outstanding at defending the rim on that team, but collectively they form a strong unit.

    The point about the Heat not forcing the opposition to take long 2s is a good one, though. You’d like to see that improve.

  3. efueshe - Oct 30, 2010 at 8:12 PM

    Funny that the Magic stopped venturing in the middle after J.J. Redick got his eye busted open by a LeBron James elbow and Vince Carter was left on the floor suffering after Haslem jumped on him. I wouldn’t be so willing to go to the post either.

  4. passerby23 - Oct 31, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    Long before the season started I predicted Miami would be one of the best defensive teams in the league. When Miller comes back and they gain some continuity with each other, it’s only a matter of time before their offense catches up with their defence. That being said, analysts and writers are obsessed with numbers and statistics. And yes, it’s only three games into the season.

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