(Photo Credit: Noah Graham)
The Miami HEAT get back to action tonight in Los Angeles as they take on the Clippers. The HEAT are looking to build off of Monday's dramatic victory over the Houston Rockets, and improve their record to 7-2. The Clippers have surprised some with a quick 5-2 start.1. The Clippers pulled out a close game last year on their home floor against the HEAT, but was that indicative of anything?
Couper Moorhead: Only that the Clippers were a good team and the HEAT were in the middle of a long road trip. There was a good deal of panic-button pushing after that game, despite the loss largely being due to missed free-throws and missed shots out of mismatches – generally good opportunities – and the team as a whole shooting less than 40 percent from the field. Folks got worked up even more when the HEAT were promptly blown out soon after by the Denver Nuggets, but there wasn’t much carryover after that. There’s no reason to say the Clippers have Miami’s number.
Danny Martinez: I’m hesitant to place much value in any one-game sample. So many weird things can happen that they tend to not mean much in the long run. In that game the HEAT shot 58.8 percent on free throws, missing 14 in total, including a few late in the game. Had the HEAT shot their season average 77.5 percent, they would have won. It’s as simple as that, really
If we want to reach, that game showed that the Chris Paul-led Clippers could hang with title contenders and would be a strong playoff team. They advanced to the second round in the West, so I guess that proved to be right.2. Should we just assume Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan will grab some offensive rebounds, or can things be cleaned up without altering the rotation?
Couper: There’s nothing wrong with giving up a few offensive boards a game, especially if things are working fine on the other end, but there’s some work to be done to keep things from being quite as egregious as they have been. No, that doesn’t mean Miami needs to play bigger players, it means they have to do a better job at boxing out both their own guys and those of their teammates. A number of times so far, Shane Battier has provided help from the weakside of the paint, caused a missed shot and had his man grab the rebound because nobody slid down to put a body on the offensive player Battier left. Boards are going to take bad bounces sometimes, but your chances of controlling the defensive glass go up dramatically if you simply have a body on every man.
Danny: I don’t think there’s a magical solution hidden in the rotation. The reality is the HEAT are playing a lot of new and unconventional lineups. It’s going to take time and a few practices for the players to figure out who’s boxing out who.
Through eight games the team is grabbing 73.6 percent of available defensive rebounds. Last season they grabbed 73.9 percent. I have a feeling that the rebounding concerns are much ado about nothing. It’s easy to think that small lineups automatically lead to poor rebounding, but that stats, at least on the defensive end, haven’t really shown that just yet.3. In a clutch-off between LeBron James and Chris Paul, who wins?
Couper: We all win. James has had the highest PER in the league in the final five minutes of close games over the past few years, but Paul isn’t far behind. Both players have exceptional patience under pressure, willing to let plays develop rather than just taking the first decent opportunity they can find for a score, and though Kyrie Irving’s clutch numbers were excellent in his rookie season, there are no two better players at controlling the tempo, managing the clock and balancing an ability to score and create open shots for their teammates. We can only hope to see these two work their magic against one another.
Danny: You? Me? Everyone? Chris Paul and LeBron James approach these “clutch” moments different than most other players. They’re both unselfish and always looking to make the right play. This is why they’re both so dangerous. If either draws help from the defense, the ball is finding an open shooter who’s more than capable of beating you. A “clutch-off” would be a ton of fun to watch.4. Just about any HEAT fan will bemoan the exploits of Jamal Crawford against this team over the years. Is there anything to that?
Couper: Ever so slightly, sure, but it’s nothing worth anywhere near the amount of attention it gets from fans. In 33 games against the HEAT, Crawford has scored 18.3 points per 36 minutes on 50.5 effective shooting with a PER of 16.66, all numbers that are just a small tick above his career averages. The myth of Crawford likely stems from the fact that he takes and hits shots that look very difficult, and confirmation bias has taken hold over the years, with people remembering his good moments more than the bad. There are plenty of players that hurt the HEAT more, Crawford is just a streaky shooter that takes tough shots and can get the ball off at any time.
Danny:He only has a better scoring average against six other NBA teams. He only has a better field goal percentage against two other NBA teams. So, yea, there’s a little something to that. Crawford has no qualms with putting up lots of shots. If the HEAT help off of him tonight, he’ll be more than happy to shoot, especially beyond the arc. On a per-minute basis, Crawford is scoring more this year than any other year save his 2008 season. We’ll see what he has in store for the HEAT.5. As long as the HEAT are winning road games, should we be overly concerned with the defensive miscues?
Couper: Not this early in the season. As long as the wins are coming, it’s tough to be too concerned about pieces of the process we’re fairly certain the team will figure out eventually. It’s impossible to expect a team to be flawless over the course of an 82-game season, just as fans shouldn’t want them peaking before Christmas. The rotations – everything from backline defense to communication in transition to picking up shooters – has to be figured out eventually, but if you notice the HEAT’s defense has been much better in the fourth quarter of close games, hinting that they’re on the right path.
Danny: I’m a process over results kind of guy, so while they’re winning, the HEAT probably haven’t been doing it how they want to. That said, we still have a long time before we need to be concerned about the defense. The HEAT have had a top-6 defense the last three seasons. Erik Spoelstra and the coaching staff know how to handle any of these little slips.
It’s important to remember that the HEAT are working in new players and lineups, all while playing more games than any team in the NBA. After this road trip the HEAT’s schedule frees up a tad, allowing for more practice time. If the defense is still struggling at the end of December, then we’ll address it.