No shame with Heat for getting in a zone, even if it makes them defensive – The Denver Post


The comment was offered practically out of indignation in the wake of the Miami Heat’s Tuesday night victory over the Golden State Warriors at FTX Arena.

“Their lesser defenders who were on the floor,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said, “they were able to hide in the zone.”

It was as if Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wasn’t willing to meet the challenge of the moment straight up.

Which, of course, he wasn’t, not the way the Heat had played man-to-man defense for not only other stages of that game, but also when the Warriors defeated the Heat a week earlier at Chase Center.

To some, zone defense is the easy out, the contrast to Heat center Bam Adebayo insisting teammates “guard our yard” or the “meet-the-challenge” mantra of the Heat years that Pat Riley coached the team.

But with players in and out of the lineup, again the case for the Heat with Friday night’s game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, it has afforded the Heat the opportunity to avoid net-negative individual defensive matchups, and, yes, hide shaky defenders.

“I think it just allows us to change the speed of the game,” forward Max Strus said. “I think with that, it just kind of slows down their offense and makes them just pass around it and shoot a lot of threes.

“I don’t know what it is, but I think we’re just pretty good at it and we have a good flow as a group together in it.”

Indeed, while not the defense of choice, or even second choice for most teams, opponents enter games against the Heat aware that Spoelstra is willing to change things up at a moment’s notice. That again was the case in Thursday night’s victory over the visiting Sacramento Kings, with the Heat arguably utilizing more zone in the early stages of this season than previous seasons.

“A lot of people don’t run it in the NBA,” Adebayo said. “We run it. We’ve executed it at a high level and it gives teams problems.”

Stephen Curry acknowledged as much after his team’s loss.

“It’s designed to take you out of your patterns and make you take shots you’re not really as comfortable with,” he said, “because it’s out of your normal offense.”

As of late it has been a decidedly productive approach, particularly when Caleb Martin and Gabe Vincent are setting an active, aggressive tone at the top of the zone.

“I give Miami credit,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, “they stifled us in those last five minutes with their zone and they were super active in it.”

Or as Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins put it, “We just couldn’t execute the plays that we wanted to execute because of the zone. They just made us switch up our rhythm.”

For a team with a highly complex formula for defensive switches at the point of attack, as well as accompanying secondary coverages in man-to-man, it somewhat eases the equation.

“I think guys are comfortable because you know exactly where your help is going to be in your rotations,” said forward Jimmy Butler, out for these past two games due to hip soreness. “You get an opportunity to put your hands on the basketball and get a lot of deflections, get you into the open floor. Not everybody works against zone in practice. So I think that’s also a reason why it plays to our advantage.”

Oddly, considering all of that guard-our-yard and Riley bravado over the years, it’s sort of become the Heat’s thing under Spoelstra.

“We’ve played in [zone] a lot throughout my time here,” guard Duncan Robinson said. “So the principles, I think everybody is comfortable with and on board with. It’s just a matter of building that connectivity on that end.

“It’s the same thing with any sort of defense. It’s a good curveball that we’ve used periodically.”



Source link