Feeling the Sting: Explaining Miami’s Struggles & What Must Change in Game 6
What is Going on With the Heat?
The series between the Miami Heat and the Charlotte Hornets certainly seemed to be over after just 96 minutes of action. The Heat won the first two games by a combined 44 points and the Hornets had just lost their best two-way player (Nicolas Batum) for the foreseeable future. These two utterly dominant wins, along with the struggles of the second-seeded Toronto Raptors, made the Heat the second most complete team in the East behind the Cleveland Cavaliers. After a sudden resurgence by Charlotte, the Hornets have taken a 3-2 series lead and the Heat are really doubting whether or not they can even make it out of the first round.
Reasons For Their Struggles:
In Games One and Two, Miami was clicking on all cylinders. They were not missing from the field, their defense was superb, and they were getting all of their core pieces involved. Since then, none of this has been true. The Heat are playing like a team without an identity and here’s why:
Involvement of Hassan:
When Hassan Whiteside dominates, the Heat look unstoppable. Teams are forced to focus most of their attention on the seven-foot giant because of his marvelous interior presence. This pressures teams to pack the paint and double Whiteside, which in turn creates more open looks for the likes of Wade, Johnson, Dragic, Richardson, and Deng.
During the first two games of the series, Whiteside was very involved and had a major impact in both victories. Let’s take a second to look at how he did in the first two games compared to the last three games. In Games One and Two, Whiteside combined for 38 points, 24 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 3 steals while shooting 17-19 from the field. In Games Three, Four, and Five, he had 32 points, 37 rebounds, 10 blocks, and no steals while shooting 11-19 overall.
The main part that I really want to focus on is the fact that he shot 17-19 in the first two games and 11-19 in the last three. The Hornets have clearly made adjustments to keep the ball out of Whiteside’s hand. When he does get the ball, When he does get the ball, Whiteside doesn’t get quality looks because Charlotte has done a fantastic job of forcing him to take tough, contested shots.
Now it’s Miami’s turn to counter with a punch of its own. This means that Whiteside must get back to dominating on the offensive end, which starts with Spoelstra finding easy buckets to get him going. His rebounding and blocking abilities will never change because of his unhuman like physique, but what has made him so special this year is his aptitude to score at a very efficient rate. Like I said earlier, this has forced teams to really focus on him, which ultimately makes everyone around him better.
Put the Ball in The Hole:
Miami has always been known as a defense-first team. They have very strong on-the-ball defenders, and Whiteside’s interior presence makes players think twice about driving to the basket. On the other hand, Miami’s offense has been pretty atrocious all year. They ranked with the lottery teams in just about every major offensive category, which is surprising for a team that finished 14 games over .500.
During the first two games against Charlotte, Miami was everything but the subpar offensive team that was seen all year. Unfortunately, during the next three, their offense completely crumbled and their true colors shined brighter than ever.
I need to compare the first two games and the last three games again just to show you how monumental these differences are. In the first two games, the Heat shot 93-161 (57.8%) from the field, 18-34 (53.0%) from the three-point line, and scored 238 total points. In the next two games, they shot 91-236 (38.6%) from the field, 23-69 (33.3%) from three, and scored 253 total points. They almost scored more points in the first two games than the last three. So we ask, what in the world happened?
Well for starters, Miami was absolutely unconscious when they were playing at home to start the series. In Game One, they actually had the most efficient game in franchise history by scoring 1.42 points per possession. After these two spectacular games, Miami’s stats were undoubtedly going to fall, but I wasn’t expecting even relatively close to this much of a decline.
What I noticed is that Miami was playing team basketball with a true purpose in the first two games, but started to play more isolation and selfish ball in the next three. They started to force up threes and would wait until late in the shot clock to get up a shot, which always seemed to be a contested jumper. Whiteside became a non factor because of this, which made Miami’s style of play very predictable and easy to stop. The amount of threes taken was disgusting. Unless you’re Golden State, no team should be taking 29 three-pointers in a game. At that point, you’re just handing the other team a victory.
Miami really needs to get back to sharing the basketball and using Whiteside as a focal point in the offense. Efficiency is key in the NBA and basketball in general, so using Whiteside to draw defenses in the paint will provide the Heat with more efficient looks from every area of the floor.
Lack of Forcing Turnovers:
Extra possessions are an essential part of winning in the NBA. Teams that tend to limit their own turnovers but excel at forcing their opponents to turn the ball over are usually very successful. This is a main reason why the Heat and Hornets each won 48 games this season.
This has been the Hornets’ trademark for the past few seasons. Charlotte averaged a league-best 11.9 turnovers per game and has led the league in this category for three straight years. It’s pretty evident that they pride themselves on taking very good care of the ball. During the five games in the playoffs, Charlotte has averaged an absurd 9.0 turnovers per game. This has to do with Miami’s lack of aggression on the defensive end along with Charlotte’s unbelievable ability to take care of the ball.
In Game Three, Charlotte had three turnovers, a number that is tied for the least amount of turnovers in a game in NBA postseason history. This leaves Miami with little margin of error because the shortage of steals doesn’t give Miami any opportunities for extra possessions. If the Heat wants to win Games Six and Seven, they need to force more turnovers and create easy buckets.
Figure Out a Set Rotation:
The NBA Playoffs is a time where teams shrink down their rotation because everything is on the line; Erik Spoelstra has done the complete opposite. In Game Three, Spoelstra put 12 different players on the court, while in Game Four, he used 11. On the other end of the court, Steve Clifford, Charlotte’s Head Coach, has used a nine-man rotation during the five games. In Games Three and Four, this number was actually down to eight because Nicolas Batum wasn’t able to play, but this clearly didn’t impact the versatile Hornets.
Confidence is very essential in the playoffs, but it’s tough for players to have that confidence when they don’t know exactly what their role is. It seems like the Heat haven’t been playing with any tenacity or determination because they’re still trying to figure out who they are and what works best for them. However, Charlotte’s nine players have the utmost confidence because they all understand their role and what they need to do to win.
For the last two games of the series and potentially further in the playoffs, Spoelstra really needs to stick with a set rotation and ride his veterans. Having 11-12 guys play in a playoff game is just unacceptable, but I think he’ll make the proper adjustments.
Miami’s weaknesses have really been exposed over the past few games. After Game Two, they were seen as Cleveland’s biggest threat in the East, but now there are doubts as to whether or not they’ll even get past this scrappy Charlotte squad. Miami really needs to get Whiteside more involved in the offense, which will benefit everyone around him. They must do everything they can to force Charlotte to turn the ball over because they need as many extra possessions as possible. I fully expect Spoelstra and the veterans to make the proper adjustments, tie the series at three-apiece, and head back to Miami for a decisive Game Seven.