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Don’t expect zone defense to suddenly be Heat stopper

Dec 28, 2011, 3:34 PM EDT

Miami Heat, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade Getty Images

The NBA is a copycat league — what works for one team will be copied by others. Almost instantly.

So when the Boston Celtics threw a pure zone at the Heat and climbed back into the game Tuesday night, scouts took notice. You can be sure that the Heat are going to see a lot more zone than they have before.

That doesn’t mean it’s going to work.

The Heat are set to bust the zone a couple of different ways, they just didn’t execute very well against the Celtics. (Well, Norris Cole did late.) This was the second game of the season, keep throwing zones at the Heat and things will change.

One reason the zone worked for Boston is at the other end of the court, Tom Haberstroh explained at ESPN.

The Celtics hit their shots, which gave them time to set up the zone defense, and then the Heat couldn’t get into their signature up-tempo game…. “We didn’t get too many defensive stops,” LeBron James said. “When we get stops, it gives us an opportunity to run. They started shooting the ball extremely well from three. It allowed them to get back into their zone to slow us up.”

Miami’s up-tempo offense this season — they had 104 possessions against the Celtics, up 13 from their average last season — is designed to not give a defense a chance to set, to be disruptive and keep the opponents off balance. When the Celtics set their defense against anyone, they can cause problems.

Zach Lowe of Sports Illustrated re-watched every possessionthe Heat had against zone and came away with a few conclusions of his own — Miami had five turnovers or fouls in the paint and also just missed some open looks. Meaning they were close to good plays, it just didn’t work out for them. But they usually will.

None of this is to say Miami has solved this thing, obviously. The results Tuesday night were bad, but the numbers only kind of lie. James and Dwyane Wade both took one or two awful long jumpers with lots of time to spare on the shot clock, and Miami also didn’t experiment much with running its normal offense — or something like it — against the zone. That’s an alternative some teams use — run pick-and-rolls as if nothing is amiss, or move the parts around until a mismatch emerges, and then exploit that mismatch via a run of-the-mill isolation drive or a post-up. Still, the tape shows the rudiments of a decent zone attack are there, with a good use of space across the floor, and James and Wade stationed on opposite wings in a way that creates quick-hitting scoring chances.

The Heat will keep seeing zones until they solve it consistently in this copycat league. It just may not be that long.

  1. crimhollingsworth - Dec 28, 2011 at 4:09 PM

    Kurt Helin, are you trying to land a job with the Heat? You write all of your Heat related articles with a pro-Heat perspective and seem overly defensive of them as well.

  2. mediamikey - Dec 28, 2011 at 4:14 PM

    As much venom is directed towards the Heat on this site, you all are quick to come up with non-stories to increase your web traffic –

    BREAKING: The Heat wear white socks with black shoes! Is Spoe safe?
    BREAKING: The Heat have Cheeseburgers for dinner: Is LeBron getting lazy?

    Your writers continually come up with crap! The HEAT have the best collection of players on the planet – as a NBA fan I relish the opportunity to watch them whenever I can – LeBron is a once in a lifetime player and we should enjoy every opportunity to watch him play basketball – Wade is also the best 2 Guard in the NBA today – so why do people love to hate the Heat?

  3. chitownmatt - Dec 28, 2011 at 4:20 PM

    Heat, Heat, Heat, Heat, Heat…..
    I havent seen the National media hand the Trophy to a team this early in the season since Karl Malone joined the Lakers.

  4. thatboi901 - Dec 28, 2011 at 5:41 PM

    Zone won’t stop the heat but it will definitely slow them up. I am not sold on the heat half court offense or them being able to develop one. with their defense and great up tempo offense they can just throw the half court offense out of the window.

  5. njsteeler - Dec 28, 2011 at 5:47 PM

    I don’t think it wll stop the Heat, but Helin, and LeBron himself said it slows them down, and doesn’t allow them to run. We all know that they excel in the transition game because of the freakish athleticism of LeBron, and DWade. So would you rather see them running, or setting up their half court offense? Teams would be stupid to run a zone exclusively against the Heat, but when they start running and throwing double alley oops, it sure is a nice alternative.

  6. slopmcflop - Dec 28, 2011 at 6:02 PM

    Okay, can we all think of the most popular franchises in the NBA? Oddly, they correlate to the biggest media markets too. Hmm, weird how that works. But the Heat, both LA teams, NYK, BOS, and Dallas all get more attention than smaller market teams because the media knows that the majority of their audience care about those teams.

    You guys are also constantly accusing Kurt of being an LA homer, given his background writing for them. Is he a Heat homer or a Laker homer? Well guess what? It’s like Kurt is writing for a nation wide audience. And what does most of the national media focus on? Big market teams. Same reason why you only hear about these NFL teams (NY, NE, DAL, GB) and MLB teams (BOS, NY, SF, CHI).

    The media writes about the teams they know will get hits with. Sure, he could sit here and write about how Milwaukee’s backup PG is getting healthy, and you know what…he does! But that hasn’t drawn half the attention that this post has. The majority of the stories from any national website will be about big market teams. That is the plain and simple truth. I think we all need to collectively remove the hurt from our butts and just be glad that this guy cranks out as many stories a day as he does. I know I check this website throughout the day, so thanks Kurt.

  7. beagle11 - Dec 28, 2011 at 6:40 PM

    A zone defense always hurts teams whose best options are slashing scorers. Zones are designed for help side defenders to pick up on players that beat the initial line of defense.This movement opens up the weak side and will leave stretch players open for a long shot , this is why Mike Miller being healthy is so important. Also a big reason why the Battier signing was crucial. This isn’t rocket science Kurt, the Mavericks did in the finals last year and the Bulls tried to no avail because they couldn’t score enough to slow down Miami’s fast break. Interested to see if Miami will be able succeed in the playoffs again when half court basket ball is more prevalent.

  8. a185 - Dec 28, 2011 at 8:43 PM

    Copycat? I wouldn’t call it being a copycat… when the Heat first got together anyone who watched LeBron or Wade play prior to teaming up knew their game isn’t shooting… they can shoot but they rather drive to the basket. The Heat knew that too and that’s why they surrounded the Heat with 3 point shooters… the problem is you can’t live with 3s and have to break the zone in other ways because long 3s lead to long rebounds and fast breaks. When Team USA played other countries used the zone too… that’s why Melo and Kobe came in handy they have better midrange and post up games. Teams are not really being copycats, that term implies negativity cause your accusing teams of not being original but everybody knows it slows them down so it would be common sense to slow down 2 players who are unstoppable when they’re playing uptempo… if great minds think alike how could you accuse them of being copycats… was Hack a Shaq a copycat tactic or was it the best option to stop Shaq… chasing Ray Allen through screens is also something you just know you have to do when you play the Celtics… there’s curtain players you let shoot cause their jump shot isn’t consistently good… in the Finals Kobe backed off Rondo… you do the same against Ben Wallace, Shaq, that’s how people used to defend Jason Kidd so it’s about forcing your opponent into a situation that slows them down cause if they’re great, you’re not stopping them.

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