Miami Heat

Mailbag: Has the zone become a long-term weapon for the Heat?

How tough was Dion Waiters’ recovery? Here’s his answer

Heat’s Dion Waiters discusses the challenges he faces in his recovery from ankle surgery.
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Heat’s Dion Waiters discusses the challenges he faces in his recovery from ankle surgery.

The weekly Miami Herald Heat mailbag is here to answer your questions.

If you weren’t able to ask a question this time, send your questions for future mailbags via Twitter (@Anthony_Chiang). You can also email me at achiang@miamiherald.com.

@Daniel22223333: Is the zone a sustainable formula for success, or is it a regular-season gimmick? And, if it can work against any team in the playoffs, can it work against poor shooting teams like the 76ers?

Anthony Chiang: I think the Heat has already proven this 2-3 zone is more than just a gimmick. It’s actually an effective scheme for Miami, and has definitely helped during this current 11-5 stretch. Yes, the Heat’s primary defense is still man-to-man. But Miami is playing zone more than any other team. More importantly, it’s working.

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The Heat has used an NBA-high 286 zone possessions this season, according to Couper Moorhead from Heat.com. The next closest is the Knicks with 142. Also, Miami is allowing about 0.84 points per possession in the zone compared to 0.94 points per possession in man-to-man.

During this 12-game stretch of zone that started in a road win over the Clippers on Dec. 8 because the Heat was shorthanded and in foul trouble, Miami has posted the league’s sixth-best defensive rating.

Does it work against every team? No.

Does it allow open shots at times? Yes.

But the key to the zone’s success has been when the Heat uses it, as coach Erik Spoelstra has mixed it in with its man defense depending on lineups on the floor, game situation and other factors, and not giving opponents enough of it that they can figure it out. This is the NBA after all, and teams will figure out how to score against a zone if given enough opportunities to crack the code.

As for your next question, can it work in the playoffs? I’m not sure about that one. In a seven-game series, teams will have enough time to game plan the Heat out of the zone. But for now, enjoy its regular-season success. It’s proof that Miami isn’t afraid to try something different every once in a while. With the way the zone is working for the Heat, it might even turn into something other teams experiment with.

Kenneth: How does Dion Waiters’ recovery time compare to similar injuries in the NBA? What should our expectations be for him?

Anthony: It’s hard to compare injuries, but before the procedure, Waiters said he was told it would keep out between eight to 10 months. Well, it actually forced him to miss a full year of games.

What should the expectations be for Waiters? You shouldn’t expect much in his first few weeks back. There’s going to be rust since he missed so much time, and there probably won’t be a lot of playing time because of the Heat’s crowded wing rotation. It’s going to take a few weeks for Waiters and the Heat to figure this situation out.

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.


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