Miami just had the challenge of defending the league’s top scorer. Now it has to try to stop No. 2.
Kevin Durant came to Miami on Wednesday and scored 33 points against the Heat as his Thunder walked away with a 17-point win. Saturday’s challenge is to contain Carmelo Anthony with the Heat visiting the Knicks.
Anthony and Durant are similar players and are built nearly identically and as such present many of the same challenges as one another.
“You’re looking at the first version of Kevin Durant in our generation,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They’re similar just in terms of that scoring mentality, and they’re going to put a heck of a lot of pressure on your defense.”
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LeBron James was tasked with trying to slow down Durant on Wednesday and will likely be the player asked to guard Anthony on Saturday. He said his defensive strategy won’t change because Anthony and Durant try to do many of the same things on offense.
He called them “scoring machines” and said they have matching offensive repertoires. He added that the only thing he can do is try to force Anthony to take difficult shots and not make it easy for him to find the hoop.
“They put you in a lot of [isolation] situations,” James said. “They’re going to make shots, but you just have to try and make it tough on them.”
The Heat enters Saturday’s contest with the Knicks disappointed with how it played in Wednesday’s loss to Oklahoma City. The unforced turnovers were a major issue and helped spark the Thunders’ offense, and New York poses many of the same threats as Oklahoma City.
Guard Dwyane Wade said Miami is an aggressive team on offense, and turnovers will result from that mentality. However, he said the Heat needs to do a better job at limiting the non-attacking mistakes, such as the passes that sailed over teammates’ heads Wednesday.
“When you’re playing a team that’s [as] good offensively as OKC or New York, you don’t want to give them as many extra possessions,” Wade said. “We just have to be a little smarter with our passes … and give a little bit more attention to detail, which you do a lot more in the playoffs than in the regular season.”
Miami has become vulnerable against smaller lineups, as was proven Wednesday when the Thunder played without a true center for most of the game. It is a puzzling trend because the Heat has played a similar style of basketball since the Big 3 was formed four seasons ago and has practiced against it almost every day.
The Knicks found success against Miami earlier this season with this strategy. Wade said the Heat doesn’t need to make many adjustments to what lineup is out there for the opposition, it just needs to focus a little more on doing what it is assigned to do on defense.
“We have all the tools to do it, we just got to do it,” Wade said. “If we put our mind to it, to get the job done, we can get the job done no matter if we’re playing against bigger lineups or smaller lineups.”
The Knicks have won four of the past five meetings with the Heat, including a 102-92 win on Jan. 9 in the season’s first meeting. James said that loss sticks with the team heading into this game.
“Any time you play against a team that you lost to, that factors into your mind,” James said. “Seeing things that you can do better, things that you can do well that you can implement into the next game and just try to figure out a way to get a win.”