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June 9, 2011
Clutch Suggestions
Fixing Miami's Offense

by Kevin Pelton


During the 48 hours between Games Four and Five of the NBA Finals, Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat coaching staff should be focusing on seven minutes. That's the period of time, as spotlighted by ESPN Insider's John Hollinger, that has tripped Miami up on offense throughout this series and allowed the Dallas Mavericks to steal a pair of come-from-behind victories. As the Heat looks for answers, here are some suggestions inspired by rewatching and charting all of Miami's late-game possessions in the NBA Finals thanks to MySynergy Sports:

Ditch the isos

In truth, clearouts for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have made up less of the Heat's end-game offense than you might think. Of the 52 half-court plays Miami has run in those situations during this series, just seven can truly be considered isolations--four for Wade, three for James. They actually produced two key scores during Game One--a Wade three-pointer that was followed by James' powerful and-one dunk where he blew by Shawn Marion.

The last two games, however, the Heat has come up empty on all four isolations. Marion, Jason Kidd and DeShawn Stevenson have done an excellent job of keeping Miami's stars in front of them, meaning isolations have almost exclusively led to low-percentage jumpers.

Keep Haslem out of the pick-and-roll

One of the surprising results from the numbers was how ineffective the Heat's pick-and-roll--the staple of the fourth-quarter offense- has been when Udonis Haslem sets the screen. In fact, Miami has yet to score any of the seven times Haslem has set a screen for either James or Wade. This isn't all his fault, naturally, but because the Mavericks don't have as much respect for Haslem as a scorer as they do for Chris Bosh, involving him in the play fails to generate high-quality looks. Using Bosh as the screener in the high pick-and-roll has been somewhat more effective, leading to four scores in 12 opportunities.

Make Jason Terry switch

Having a guard set a screen on the ball has become increasingly common in the NBA because most teams will automatically switch these screens, leading to more favorable matchups for the offense. That's the goal when the Heat uses point guard Mario Chalmers to screen for either James or Wade. Dallas wants to avoid forcing Jason Terry, matched against Chalmers, to defend one of the Miami superstars. That concern caused Terry to foul Chalmers and send him to the line in the last two minutes of Game One, the only time the Heat has run the Wade-Chalmers pick-and-roll.

Since then, Spoelstra has called for the James-Chalmers pick-and-roll, but with poor results. This is an issue of execution, not design. James has to attack the screen more aggressively and decisively, preventing Marion from fighting his way back to James and giving Terry no choice but to make the switch. The way James has casually floated on the perimeter after Chalmers has set his screen is perhaps the best example of how James' passive play has hurt his team.

Post Wade

If there's one play Miami has neglected late in games, it's posting up Wade against Kidd. This matchup simply doesn't work for the Mavericks one-on-one. Unless they bring help, Wade will be able to create makeable shots. Yet the Heat has posted Wade just twice during the stretch run of games in this series, doing so on back-to-back trips down the floor midway through the fourth quarter of Game Three.

There are many positives that come from putting Wade in the post. In particular, it changes the way Miami spaces the floor. Spoelstra can use James to feed the post, putting both superstars on the same side of the court rather than leaving one of them alone in the weak-side corner. It also allows the Heat's big men to attack the offensive glass. Part of the reason Miami's offense grinds to a halt late in games is that second chances, so important in the first three quarters, disappear. The Heat's offensive rebound percentage has dropped by a third during crunch-time situations.

Mix things up

The strongest takeaway from the video is how effectively Dallas has made defensive adjustments on the fly. Whenever Miami has tried to go to the same play repeatedly, the Mavericks have had an answer. That may mean giving something else, as in the case of the double-cross screen the Heat ran with success during the first half Tuesday, but it is a testament to both quality coaching and the basketball IQ of the Dallas veterans. Continually running the same play--high pick-and-rolls, mostly, in this series--will not work without new wrinkles. Instead, Miami must mix in some post opportunities for Wade, Chalmers screens and even the Wade-James pick-and-roll that set up the winning score in Game Three.

The danger in taking this route is that variety will produce the confusion we saw in the fourth quarter Tuesday, which contrasted with the clear focus on getting the basketball to Wade late in Game Three. That's why it makes sense for late-game situations to be the focus of the Heat's morning shootaround. Instead of scripting the start of a game, a practice some NBA teams have borrowed from football, Miami ought to plan out its attack for the fourth quarter ahead of time. In a series as closely matched as this one, execution down the stretch will likely mean the difference between winning and losing.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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