Even when the gimmick worked, Erik Spoelstra appreciated there had to be something more defensively.
Once the gimmick was solved, the Miami Heat’s defense has been, well, defenseless.
Yes, it was a good run for the zone defense that Spoelstra utilized during the first half of the season, putting his team on record pace for defensive possessions in zone and vaulting the Heat to a top-five defensive rating prior to the All-Star break.
And then it wasn’t such a good run.
“The last few times we’ve used it, we’ve gotten torched by it,” Spoelstra said. “So it was kind of an easy decision to move away from it. We work on it, still. Still have it in our tool kit. It just depends on the game and the circumstance.”
At the moment, circumstances are dire on that end of the floor, including Saturday night’s 129-100 loss to the Brooklyn Nets at Miami-Dade Arena.
The numbers are staggering and sobering.
In their last 15 games, the Heat are 25th in the 30-team NBA in defensive rating.
In their last 10, they are 28th.
And in March, the only team with a worse defensive rating is the Indiana Pacers, as in the team that gave up 143 points in a Saturday loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
“We have not been defending at a world class level the way we’re capable of,” Spoelstra understated, with the Heat idle until a back-to-back road trip against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night and New York Knicks on Wednesday night.
“I’ve seen us defend with much better discipline, communication, precision and effort, and we didn’t have enough of that consistently throughout the last three quarters [against the Nets].”
Not only did the previously struggling Nets finish with their best offensive rating of the season on Saturday night, but the Heat closed with their worst defensive rating since the NBA began tracking such statistics in 1996-97.
Combined with Wednesday night’s 127-120 victory over the visiting Knicks, the Heat have allowed 120 or more in consecutive games for the first time since allowing 124 in a loss to the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 30 and 123 in a victory over the Utah Jazz on Dec. 31.
That also was when the league largely had fully gone to school on the Heat’s zone.
“I think the zone really messed people up,” point guard Kyle Lowry said of the Heat’s early-season defensive success. “They adjusted to it. Now I think it’s just . . . I don’t know.
“We’ve got to look back at what’s going on. I know early in the year, we played a lot of zone and we slowed the pace down. Now we’re scoring more, and we’ve got to figure out how to find that balance of doing both, scoring and defending.”
In recent weeks, an uptick in the Heat offense had masked the defensive deficiencies.
Then the Nets arrived and seized upon a defense in decline.
“Just some of our coverages, some of our coverage that we were doing, usually our general schemes, they set us up against some of those coverages that we do every night, every game,” guard Tyler Herro said.
“We don’t give up 129 points to a lot of people. So that’s on us defensively, and we’ve got to be better.”
To center Bam Adebayo, it is a matter of talking it out, and beyond the video session Spoelstra has planned for Monday.
“I’d say the lack of communication when we get fatigued, I feel like that’s a big momentum shift,” Adebayo said. “When guys get fatigued, we stop talking and it hurts us, because we expect guys to be in certain places and we’re not. I just feel like we have mental lapses when we get fatigued.”
In many ways, it already has been a draining season. And yet now, with seven games remaining in the regular season, it is getting even more draining, with Saturday’s loss dropping the Heat to No. 7 in the East and a play-in seed.
“This locker room doesn’t want to be on the play-in. That’s not obviously on our radar.,” Herro said of the extra postseason round that requires at least one victory to advance to the best-of-seven first round. “We want to be in the top six and we feel like we have a great opportunity. But we are in the position to do what we want to do, it’s just at this point we have to do it.”
Source: Berkshire mont