Heat Check

Why the Heat’s ‘boring’ offense might be what’s best for the team moving forward

Phoenix Suns guard Mike James defends against Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, in Phoenix.
Phoenix Suns guard Mike James defends against Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, in Phoenix. AP

So why did the Miami Heat have its best offensive night of the season two days after its worst against the Golden State Warriors?

Level of competition is certainly one factor, but so too were the plays the Heat ran. In three words, co-captain James Johnson described the Heat’s offense on Wednesday perhaps better than anyone else.

“It was boring,” Johnson said. “Coach Spo is a great leader, man. He knows what he’s talking about. He knows the kind of guys we got on this team and how we’re wired. So let the coach coach and he’s going to bring the best out of every player. Without trying to give our scheme away, yeah, [we were] just being boring.”

Boring it seems is better — and something the Heat (5-6) wants to do more of as it continues its six-game road trip Friday night at Utah (5-6). After coming into Wednesday’s game ranked 28th in the league in turnovers with a 17.1 average, the Heat only coughed it up 15 times against the Suns and scored a season-high 126 points, while shooting a season-best 53.1 percent from the field.

More importantly, coach Erik Spoelstra said, the team put the ball in the hands of its primary ballhandlers Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters more often and then let ancillary ballhandlers like Johnson and Justise Winslow make smart, unselfish plays when needed.

“At the end of the day we’ve all got our skill set and we try to go out there and do things that you know we worked on. Sometimes you just overcomplicate things and simple is good for our team right now,” said Winslow, who scored a season-high 14 points in Wednesday’s win and also dished out five assists.

“That handoff play is a simple play, an easy play. So right now our turnovers are high. So we’re just keeping it super basic, super simple and just trying to kind of rely on our defense and not let our offense get in the way of us winning games. So, just try to establish that top 10 defense and then offensively if we limit the turnovers we’ll be fine.”

Heat Suns Basketball(4)
Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters drives past Phoenix Suns guard Mike James during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, in Phoenix. Matt York AP

Spoelstra said when the Heat is maximizing its offensive potential, three-point specialist Wayne Ellington usually benefits from it. Ellington made four three-pointers in Miami’s win over the Suns.

Ellington said simplifying the playbook was smart.

“I think less maybe is more for us right now in terms of us just getting those sets down and being able to execute that properly,” Ellington said Thursday. “Obviously as the season goes on, coach will add more to the package. But yeah, the way we played last night, not only myself, but everybody benefits from it. [There’s] less turnovers, the ball is moving a little bit more, everybody is touching it a little bit more and it helped us play a little bit better on the offensive end.”

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talks about roster adjustments and Justise Winslow's energy in recent games.

What’s specifically different for Ellington in this offense? “I think it’s more just being able to get to a trigger quicker,” Ellington said. “In the past, we had a lot of free time when guys were just dribbling and dribbling, and it turns into an iso for one of our guys instead of us if we don’t got nothing early, attack. It’s a handoff or pass it, set a screen for another guy. Whatever it may be, we’re just trying to get to triggers faster.”

Ellington said the key ultimately is playing more off instinct and less off the plays themselves.

“That might be the type of group we have, guys that don’t really want to have to think about plays and just get out there and play,” he said. “You got a few sets that we run and you stick to it, and you master those and it becomes natural. And then everything else becomes natural on the court for us.”

Tyler Johnson didn’t play in Wednesday’s game because he’s battling flu-like symptoms. But Johnson said from his view on the bench the Heat’s offense “looked night and day different than what it did in Oakland.”

“I don’t think it was overpassing as it much was just not making the easy play,” he said. “Sometimes we were trying to force maybe a pocket that wasn’t there or a lob that might not be there or make a skip pass that wasn’t there as opposed to maybe settling down and getting into a pick and roll and making sure we made the defense guard something.

▪ After crashing to the court and bending his left hand backward late in Wednesday’s game, Hassan Whiteside practiced on Thursday and said his hand still felt a little sore.

“It’s good man,” Whiteside said. “I’m sore, but I’ve hit game-winners with one hand.”

▪ Tyler Johnson also practiced Thursday and said he’s working toward a return Friday against the Jazz. “I can’t give 100 percent one way or the other, but I’m definitely working towards it,” he said. “I feel better than I did yesterday.”

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