PHOENIX -- In the Heat’s spread offense, Shane Battier is a receiver being covered night after night by a defensive end.
In basic football terms, that’s the crux of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s offense, which was inspired in part by the offensive philosophy of University of Oregon football coach Chip Kelly, who runs a wide-open spread offense.
Last season, the offense experienced fits and starts throughout the regular season and playoffs until Battier was moved into the starting lineup and Chris Bosh, another mismatch problem, was made the team’s center.
Now, 11 games into the new season, the “spread offense/positionless basketball/whatever you want to cal it” is thriving and Battier and Bosh are the system’s biggest beneficiaries.
Battier is shooting 47.1 percent from three-point range (24-51) while Bosh is enjoying his best season with the Heat. He’s averaging 19.6 points per game while shooting 55.2 percent from the field.
On Thursday in the Heat’s 98-93 victory over the Nuggets, the Battier-Bosh combination went for 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting. Battier was 6 of 7 from three-point range, and Bosh shot 50 percent from the field.
On Saturday, a 97-88 victory over the Suns, Battier and Bosh combined to score 36 points. Bosh led the Heat with 24 points, going 9 of 11 from the field while Battier was 4 of 8 from three-point range for 12 points.
“We are small, but we’re one of the best teams in the league, the defending champs, and we carry that with us everyday,” Bosh said.
There’s a give and take to going small night after night. The benefit is open jumpers for Battier, Bosh and others. The drawback, obviously, is giving up size on the defensive end. Of course, having LeBron James on the court usually negates any size disadvantage.
“For me, I have power forwards guarding me and they’re not necessarily used to guarding perimeter players,” Battier said. “And so my threes, I’m really wide open because the power forward is stuck in the paint somewhere. History has proven if you’re shooting open three-pointers, then you’re going to shoot a higher percentage than on contested ones.”
The flip side of that is the Battier’s constant struggle against larger power forwards on the defensive end. Battier earned a black eye against Memphis after catching an elbow from Zach Randolph. Against the Nuggets, Kenneth Faried had 11 offensive rebounds.
Battier calls playing against power forwards every night one of the biggest challenges of his career. Resolutely, he vows to win more battles than he loses.
“I’ve been counted out a lot in my life and in my career and I’ve always met the challenge and so I look at this new challenge as just another chapter in my book,” Battier said.
So far, the positives of Spoelstra’s “positionless” philosophy have outweighed the negatives. A victory on Wednesday against the Bucks would tie the franchise record for best start to a season. The Heat is currently 8-3.
As in football’s spread offense, the point of the Heat’s spread is to space the floor, find mismatches and get open shots. It’s working. As a team, the Heat is shooting 42.8 percent from three-point range.
“We don’t like to take contested threes,” Spoelstra said. “And we have enough great shooters in that locker room that if you able to execute and move the ball freely to the open man and if they’re wide open behind the three, they’re very accurate. But we’ll have to see how the season unfolds itself.”
Two players in the regular rotation are shooting better than 50 percent from beyond the arc. Ray Allen, who didn’t attempt a three-pointer on Saturday for only the ninth time in his career, is shooting 51.2 percent from distance. Rashard Lewis, given up for dead by many around the league, leads the team in three-point shooting percentage at 53.6.
Three other players in the regular rotation are shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range: James (43.8), Mike Miller (44.0) and Battier (46.6). James Jones is 4 of 8 from three-point range in 18 minutes.
A 4-2 record on its first extended road trip of the season was viewed as a major success by the team considering the injuries and illnesses the Heat had to deal with along the way. Dwyane Wade missed half of the games due to flu-like symptoms and a sprained left foot. Mario Chalmers missed a game with a triceps injury. James played with the flu on Saturday.
“We know we weren’t at our best against the Clippers and Grizzlies and struggled against the Rockets but at this stage in the game, it’s about improving while not dropping too many games,” Battier said. “So, you look back at a trip like this at the end of the year, and you’re like, ‘Man, that was a great road trip,’ and I think we’ll be a much better team a month from now and two months from now and going forward and it was great to go on this road trip and establish ourselves.”