Indiana and Miami are two of the best teams in the league and certainly a class above the rest of the Eastern Conference. Neither is playing its best basketball currently, but barring a drastic playoff upset, it’s pretty much a given they’ll face off for a place in the NBA Finals this year, just as they did last year. Everyone expects it to be another very entertaining series.
Looking that far ahead is dangerous. But Indiana also faces Miami next Wednesday, so now is as good a time as any to explore how the Pacers might beat Heat — next week and, more importantly, in the playoffs.
Exploiting the Heat’s Defense
The Heat have the 12th-ranked defense in the league, giving up just 103.1 points per 100 possessions. Their defense is most notable for its ability to force turnovers, often created by the aggressive traps they conduct on pick-and-rolls
Have a video analysis of that technique from Coach Nick of BBall Breakdown.
As is evident through Miami’s solid defensive rating and overall record this season, this approach can give opposing teams nightmares. In fact, Miami is the best team in the league at defending the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations and the second best at defending the roll man, per Synergy Sports.
Check out the crazy-low percentages they force in these situations:
The terrible shooting percentages of the ball-handler out of PnR vs. the Heat are no surprise, considering they usually hound the guard as soon as the screen comes. But forcing those kind of percentages against the roll-man is downright impressive, and even more so when you take into account how far the Heat’s bigs come out of the paint to defend these plays.
However, as shown in the above video, the technique they use to keep those percentages so low can be exploited when the correct counter-tactics are used.
The method highlighted by Coach Nich — hitting the roll man around the elbow — is most effective when the receiver is a threat from that range (ala Serge Ibaka or Tim Duncan) because Miami will view the open roll-man as an issue and go into scramble mode to close out. This creates both open shots and driving lanes to the basket (which are a large issue for the Heat due to their lack of rim protection).
Obviously, this means running that pick-and-rolls with David West will work best, since he can make shots from mid-range consistently, put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim, and kick to open shooters on the perimeter.
As is, 43.3% of pick-and-rolls with West as the roll man result in a score, so if Hill/George/Stephenson are able to find him in the middle of the floor once the trap comes, it’s going to open up great shots for Indiana.
So, with the right personnel and system, the Heat’s aggressive defense can be used against them. That’s all well and good, but how do you stop the Heat offensively?
Or to be more specific, how do you stop LeBron?
The short answer: You don’t.
In the seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series between Indiana and Miami last year, LeBron averaged 29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 51% shooting from the field, 44% from the 3-point line and 78% from the stripe, during which time Indiana threw just about every defender on their roster at him. LeBron can’t really be stopped, but perhaps he can be — at least partially — contained.
Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report recently featured in a video detailing what the better teams in the league have been doing to “rattle” LeBron.
Skolnick talks about the Spurs’ strategy in the Finals last year, which was basically to just back off LeBron and give him enough room on the perimeter so that he thinks twice about shooting, which ultimately forced him to be a jumpshooter for most of that series.
This worked well for the Spurs, as LeBron shot 45% and 35%, respectively, from the field and behind the arc — both well below his season-long averages.
However, if the Pacers do end up facing the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, it would be even better to see Paul George — an elite perimeter defender — be able to stay out far enough on LeBron to contest his shots while still containing his drive.
Even if Paul can’t contain the drive, he’s got the best rim protector in the league right behind him to help out.
Granted, the way these two teams are playing right now, it feels a bit less certain that they will meet in the playoffs. But if — OK, probably when — they do, look for these two strategies to factor prominently.
And lucky for the Pacers and coach Frank Vogel, they”ll have a chance to try them out soon when the two Eastern giants square off on national television next Wednesday.