Okay, so the Heat tossed the Charlotte Hornets into the mouth of a caldera volcano on Sunday, leaving no evidence except for a charred box score: 123-91, Heat. Even if the Hornets played so embarrassingly that it was hard to dissect their gameplan (was there one?), there’s always room for improvement, right? Let’s check out a few ways the Heat can maximize their success, going forward:
1.) Joe Johnson on Nicolas Batum
Just about the only Hornet who got his way versus the Heat was jack-of-all-trades Nicolas Batum, who converted 7-of-14 of his shots. Granted, Batum was 6-of-8 on “contest field goal attempts,” per NBA.com/Stats, meaning, though Batum did make a few buckets, the majority of them were under durress.
Joe Johnson, the Heat’s starting small forward can be a potent offense force, yet he lacks the certain tools to guard athletic wings -- namely, a time machine. Johnson is too slow to counteract the agility Batum possesses that helps him slither around screens. Batum’s fleet-footedness is showcased even more when he dips and curls around screens, often pogo-sticking his way to off-the-bounce jumpers. Batum rising up for a jumper after a high-speed curl is trouble for Iso Joe. Johnson is like an airplane, or a car with bad brakes, he need ample room for deceleration. And if not given that room, there’s a high probability Johnson runs into the back of a Batum jumper, unable to stop, sending Charlotte's swiss army knife to the line.
What hurts the Heat even more, is that most of Batum’s curling launch sites are from beyond the arc.
Lucky for the Heat, the answer seems to be as simple as swapping defensive assignments: Put the more able-bodied Luol Deng on Batum, then slide Johnson down to the four and stick him on the spot-shooting Marvin Williams.
2.) Whiteside’s decision making
When you’re playing pickup hoops with your buddies and you draw the assignment of guarding the big guy brick-layer, how do you adjust when he keeps launching bricks from 20-plus feet? You sag off him. Or even better, you help defend your teammates man. Simple, right? Well, it should be. I’m going to chalk it up to the exciting nature of the playoffs, but c’mon man! Hassan Whiteside is an egregious offender of pressing up on Cody Zeller, a man who can’t shoot.
Zeller has barely even looked at the basket from beyond 16-feet in the regular season. Not to mention, he drizzled in 16-of-60 shots from 16-feet to the arc and only one 3-pointer on the season, per basketball-reference.com. Whiteside must have not read the scouting report; either that, or he wanted to slow dance with Zeller (I’m not sure which is worse). In Game 2, Whiteside should do himself a favor -- make believe like he’s at a Catholic school dance and some stick in the mud chaperone is telling him to “leave room for god” between him and the youngest Zeller.
Know who you’re guarding, Whiteside. That Zeller blow-by is the type of play that earns you third in Defensive Player of the Year votes, and not second or first (though, third is still an awesome accomplishment).
This is one of the Heat’s more pressing problems. Whiteside is still young in NBA years, and decision making comes with experience. So the Heat might have to hold tight until its fledgling center realizes his full potential -- their playoff fate may be decided on it.
3.) They aren’t that bad
You’ve heard the before: Golden State East, best Eastern Conference team since the All-Star break …
Those claims might be true, and should be noted. Know that playoff games can be night and day from game-to-game and the Heat score nearly seven more points per game at home. This series is far from over. Any team that takes care of the ball better than anyone, plays good team defense and shoots 3s until their arms are fall off (nearly 30 a game) has a punchers chance in any game, don’t kid yourself.
Steve Clifford has gotten coach of the year buzz (no pun intended), and rightly so. I’d be shocked if the Hornets didn’t come out and extinguish some of the Heat’s momentum, in Game 2.
4.) Justise Winslow
Anyone that watched the Heat-Hornets matchup on Sunday was more than impressed with Justise Winslow. Whether you ohhh’d watching Winslow fight around screens or ahhh’d when he euro-stepped a hopeless Frank Kaminsky, only to point and pay homage to his teammate Dwyane Wade, there was something to appreciate for everyone.
Even Hornet’s coach Clifford.
It’s no secret, Winslow can’t shoot, and the Hornets are sure to take advantage of that by sagging of Winslow, leaving him on island. That only means that when the Heat run their pick-and-rolls, and the perimeter guys rotate along the 3-point arc, Winslow has to be ready. When he finds himself at the top of the break or, even better, the short corner, he has to be ready to shoot. There’s nothing more deflating than a pump fake leading to zilch, other than the defense catching their breath on said record scratch. Feigning spacing is better than nothing. And if you don’t pull the trigger, you’ll never hit anything. In Game 1, Winslow fared fine pumping and driving but that won’t always be the case. I’ll leave Winslow with some advice:
In honor of the NHL Playoffs and Michael G. Scott, “You miss 100 percent of the shot’s you dont take.” -- Wayne Gretzky.
With all that said, if Miami punches Charlotte in the mouth, again, like they did on Sunday. None of this might matter. You can only polish sterling silver so much.