As if he were imploring reporters to keep a secret, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra lifted one finger over his lips and lightly made the shushing sound.
No, the Heat isn’t overly concerned about its rebounding numbers, but that doesn’t mean Spoelstra wants everyone to know it.
After 38 games in the regular season, the Heat is dead last in the NBA in rebounds per game (38.84). Spoelstra and Heat president Pat Riley have made steps throughout the season to improve defensive rebounding — first moving Udonis Haslem into the starting lineup and now adding veteran free agent Chris Andersen to the mix — but, considering the team is in first place in the East, that “dead last” denotation is clearly incongruous with what it actually takes for the Heat to win games.
For this team, it’s not all about rebounding.
“It is an important aspect,” Spoelstra said Tuesday, when Miami held its third practice session in four days. “[Rebounding] is an important aspect of our defense. We have to finish. It’s not the most important aspect of our game.”
The Heat is a small team. During the long, slogging NBA regular season, Miami (26-12) is never going to rebound day in and day out with the likes of the Indiana Pacers or Chicago Bulls. That’s OK, says Spoelstra, guard Dwyane Wade and forward Shane Battier. The team was never designed to win games by dominating the boards.
“There are more important factors for us,” Spoelstra said. “The story line that is very popular out there? That’s fine. I don’t really care. I know what helps us win and what really doesn’t help us win … if we force turnovers, if we win the turnover game, that’s the most important thing.”
The Heat’s defense is averaging 14.8 turnovers per game (15.3 at home), and the team is ranked fifth in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.65). Combine those tendencies with the Heat’s efficient offense (first in field-goal percentage at .488; third in three-point field goal percentage at .387), and you have a winning formula.
Battier, fully healed from a sore hamstring that limited during the Heat’s six-game road trip, acknowledged that opponents’ turnovers are the Heat’s most important statistic “just because we’re such a high-efficiency team.”
“The more possessions we get, we’re going to convert those into points. … Raw rebounds are a misleading stat,” he added. “For us, turnovers are pretty much everything.”
The Heat is 17-5 in games when it has forced at least 15 turnovers. The common denominator in the five losses? It’s not rebounding, but rather turnovers allowed. In the five losses when the Heat has forced at least 15 turnovers, it has allowed an average of 15.6 turnovers.
It’s not surprising, then, that the first statistic Wade looks for in the boxscore after games is his turnovers.
“That’s who we are,” Wade said. “This is our team. We love the games where we’re able to rebound with the opponents, but games where we get outrebounded, we’ve got to make up for it.”
So dedicated to his frenetic defensive style is Spoelstra that he bristles at the notion that Miami’s ability to force turnovers is a form of compensation for the team’s lack of size. That’s not the point, Spoelstra says, but rather “that’s who we are.”
“We’re trying to make other teams compensate to us,” he said. “That’s a totally different mentality. We’re not giving up something because of ‘X, Y, Z.’ We’re trying to go after something and put pressure on other teams because of ‘X,Y, Z’ — our athleticism, our quickness, our intelligence, our versatility.”