The way the Miami Heat closed out its seven-game home stand Monday, pounding the New York Knicks by 17 points and holding them to a season-low 32.2 percent shooting, coach Erik Spoelstra came away from that game feeling some real defensive habits were being built.
“That’s going to have to be the nature we embrace and become,” Spoelstra said of being a tough, physical and gritty, defensive team.
Spoelstra called it a requirement for the Heat’s success this season.
Wednesday night in Detroit, though, the league's top-ranked field goal defense got blindsided by the Pistons, who came into the game the worst three-point shooting team in the league and yet made 16 shots from beyond the arc (one shy of Detroit’s franchise-record) in a runaway win over Miami.
Was the Heat’s worst loss of the season simply an aberration? Or, could it be a sign Miami (9-5) took advantage early of having 10 of its first 13 games at home, and is not as elite defensively as it has initially shown?
“It’s not an eye opener to me — I've been in this league 13 years,” said Dwyane Wade, who scored only two points on 1-of-9 shooting in 23 minutes, his worst scoring game of any in which he’s played at least 20 minutes.
“We’ve been precautionary about it,” Wade continued. “We’re not the team we want to be yet. We still have to get there. And you don’t get there until you go through adversity. And you go through adversity more so on the road than you do at home. So the NBA [season] starts now.”
The Heat, which played without its best perimeter defender in Luol Deng (left hamstring strain) for the first time this season on Wednesday, contested 60 of Detroit’s 98 shots.
The Pistons made 41.7 percent of those, a high percentage. They also did a better job than the Knicks did Monday in their loss to Miami of hitting the open ones, connecting on 16 of 38 (42.7%). The Knicks, who host the Heat in Madison Square Garden on Friday night, made only 9 of 39 uncontested shots against Miami (23.1 percent), including Carmelo Anthony who finished 0 for 7 when he was left open.
But before running off and believing the Heat’s early defensive success is simply the product of wide open shooters not having burned them thus far, some interesting numbers from NylonCalculus.com, a basketball analytics website, suggest otherwise.
Not including Wednesday’s loss to the Pistons, the Heat actually led the NBA in contested three-point shot percentage (69 percent) and ranked fifth in contested midrange shot percentage (62.5 percent). So the Heat is getting to where its need to be make shooters feel uncomfortable.
But Miami is also benefitting from open shooters missing more than the NBA average. Opponents are making 37.5 percent on uncontested threes versus the Heat (the league average is 38 percent) and missing more open midrange jumpers (36.7 percent) than against the legaue average (43.1 percent).
Good all-around defensive pressure, though, and the league leader in blocks in Hassan Whiteside can all be valid reasons why Miami's opponents are missing open shots when they do get them.
Wednesday, however, Chris Bosh said Miami didn’t do a good enough job on defense getting hands on passes, rerouting Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson when he penetrated the paint and kicked out to open shooters, or stepping out to make those shooters uncomfortable.
On the other side of the court, where the Heat shot 40.5 percent and scored a season-low 81 points, “the ball movement wasn’t up to par,” Bosh said.
“When we don’t do that and take quick shots, it digs a hole,” said Bosh, who finished 3 of 9 for nine points in 30 minutes. “We haven’t really done this since training camp. So it’s really surprising.”
Said Wade: “We just have to do a better job Friday of just helping each other out on both ends of the floor.”
▪ How did Hassan Whiteside do in his first head-to-head battle with Pistons center Andre Drummond?
“I felt like I did a good job on him defensively,” said Whiteside, who had 15 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in nearly 30 minutes. “He took 18 shots for 18 points. I feel that’s pretty solid. He’s a good big and with their system; he stays in that paint and tips it around in there.”
Drummond, a double-double, swatting machine like Whiteside, finished with 18 points, 20 rebounds and five blocks in three quarters of work.
Friday: Heat at Knicks
When, where: 7:30 p.m., Madison Square Garden, New York City.
TV, radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish).
Series: Knicks leads 59-50.
Scouting report: Miami won it’s seventh in a row against New York on Monday, tying a franchise-record. But the Heat is 21-34 all-time in the Big Apple. Luol Deng (left hamstring strain) missed his first game of the season Wednesday in Detroit and is questionable for the Heat.