The party line for the Heat right now is that the team just needs time to build chemistry. You’ve heard this perhaps a million times: “The Big Three just need to learn how to play together! They only got three minutes in the preseason!” And so on.
Here’s the always annoying Chris Bosh from last night on that topic in the AP recap:
“We’re nine games into the season and we can’t play perfect basketball right off the bat. We’re up against a lot. We just have to keep working. … When it’s all said and done, I think we’ll be where we want to be.”
Thanks, Chris. Also, maybe you should have gotten “up against” Rondo when he dunked in your dinosaur-like grill last night.
It’s definitely possible that the Heat still have yet to unlock some mystical secret about how to win on a team with two of the league’s top four players. But after last night, I’m not sure if things aren’t going to get worse for the Heat, or at least not much better. Because while the Heat are learning about each other, teams are going to start seeing them for the second and third time and learning how to exploit their holes. And as the C’s proved last night, this is a team that can be learned.
Why have the Heat suffered against great point guards this year? Because great point guards, Rajon Rondo perhaps foremost among them in this respect, find teammates with favorable matchups in situations where they can score quickly. And you might as well call this Heat team eHarmony.com because they offer some favorable matchups. (Sorry. I promise not to do anything like that ever again).
According to Basketball Prospectus, The Heat are going with the worst starting point guard and the worst starting center in the NBA this year in terms of overall win value. Okay: Nenad Krstic projects a lot worse than Joel Anthony does, but the Thunder have three true centers who are better than Krstic so I’m not counting him as a starter. I’m not doing it.
So this is a team with two spots on the floor that are thin from the starters on down. That’s the kind of team that great point guards like Rondo have erotic dreams about. The C’s can just set screens off the ball until somebody gets a good matchup on a Carlos Arroyo or a Udonis Haslem or, gulp, a Chris Bosh, and then Rondo gets them the damn ball. And he got it to them all over the place last night: 3 assists at the rim, 3 inside 10 feet, 1 from 10 to 15, 3 from 16 to 23, and 6 from outside the arc. Dayum. Get really excited for when Mike Miller rejoins the team, because he will immediately become the worst defender in the Heat rotation.
Meanwhile, back on defense, the C’s can exploit the Heat’s lack of depth by smothering the top three options (this is possible with KG’s spidery help defense) and forcing them to go to one of the creaking veterans standing just inside the arc. That plan worked crazily well last night: the Heat took 26 shots from 16 to 23 feet last night, 11 more than they took from anywhere else on the floor.
Uninformed Person: “But they made 65% of their long twos last night! Haslem was 7 for 7! That strategy failed!!!”
That’s not going to happen every time, Uninformed Person. The Heat average 42.5% from that area. Any game where you can make Udonis Haslem use up ten possessions is a great game.
Here’s Rondo articulating the same thing to Jackie MacMullan using like 600 fewer words than I did:
“If they put LeBron on me, who guards Paul? Who guards Ray?”
I wish WordPress could make that sentence glow and shoot little fireworks. So awesome. Because the answer to Rondo’s hypothetical is Carlos Arroyo, a man who the people at Converse tried valiantly to edit out of that Dr. J commercial, or Eddie House, who Ray can barely even see as he shoots over Eddie’s tiny arms.
This quote demonstrates that Rondo and the C’s basically skipped the learning curve with the Heat. They get what very few NBA media people got before this season began: when you spend virtually all of your team’s resources on three players, that leaves two players on the floor at all times who opposing teams can A) go after on defense and B) force you to use on offense.
So I wouldn’t rule out the league’s mediocre point guards watching the top guys and gradually learning how to pick apart the Heat defense as they get more experience with it. Yeah, some NBA point guards aren’t good enough to ever figure it out, but most of those guys already play for the Heat anyway. Ya burnt!