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Does the Heat stop at track 27 in Chicago?
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 27
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These days in the NBA, and elsewhere, you wonder about many things. I know I’ve heard it debated whether if a parsley farmer is sued they garnish his wages. If you are a vegan, can you eat animal crackers? And how exactly with 27 consecutive wins can you beat the Heat?
Punk ’em, I say.
Nothing dirty or sinister, now, not that you could in the NBA anymore, anyway.
But the Bulls have done this before with a modicum of success. Keep the game slow by working the clock on offense, which also helps you set your defense. Body them; play them physically and get up in them. Remember a few years ago how upset Chris Bosh was — and he wasn’t even crying, though more whining — when Omer Asik dove for a loose ball and rolled into Bosh and caused an ankle injury? Bosh said you shouldn’t dive on such occasions. Well, we know he wouldn’t.
Look, nobody is dismissing the greatness of this Heat achievement. They’ve been phenomenal, the story of the NBA season when the Lakers aren’t doing or saying anything stupid. Which isn’t that often, actually. But the Heat has at least turned the Lakers into supporting (bad) actors for now.
Twenty-seven straight professional wins is remarkable no matter the circumstances.
You’re not beating them four times in a playoff series, at least if you call the Eastern Conference home. But you can beat them in a game.
The Bulls did so in Miami in early January, and began something of a pattern in holding Miami under 90 points. The Bulls did so as well in their loss to Miami last month in Chicago, which wasn’t quite as impressive as the Bulls scored 67.
So how do you deal with this Miami machine?
Like with Michael Jordan, you don’t really do anything that makes that much difference with LeBron, though I have a few ideas.
First, if you are the Bulls you go traditional, which is Luol Deng, a familiar face for James, and Marco Belinelli if healthy, or Jimmy Butler on Dwyane Wade, who is expected to play. I’m not thrilled with those matchups, actually, though I don’t expect much change from Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who prefers consistency and routine and has coached the team much better than I have these last few years.
But this is anything but a routine regular season game no matter how much Thibodeau and the players might protest. You’ll notice no quotes here. If they’re lying I’m not writing it down. They are lying if they say this is another game. Or maybe not wanting to magnify the disappointment if they lose.
There aren’t many NBA regular season games that are special and significant. This is one.
Miami still remains the 30th ranked rebounding team in the NBA with a minus 1.8 differential. Which is why Pat Riley isn’t selling “rebounding equals rings” t-shirts anymore. His Heat have debunked his famous bromide. The Bulls are sixth in the league in rebounding with a 2.3 per game differential.
The Bulls aren’t as threatening to Miami on the boards without Omer Asik. But it is an edge. I’d expect Joakim Noah to play after a weekend to rest his relentless plantar fasciitis. He’ll likely defend Bosh as Carlos Boozer plays the lesser of the scoring front court players, Udonis Haslem.
Miami gets away with that non center lineup mostly because the NBA hardly has any centers anymore, and few who can score. The Bulls won’t look to Noah so much to change that, though Boozer has had some good scoring games against the Heat.
Still, I believe, the strategy should be based on more aggressive and physical play.
Miami wins with its defense much like the Bulls did in the 1990’s. They, like the Bulls, have the premier star. But it’s the aggressive athletes playing the passing lanes, trapping and blitzing the pick and roll and contesting your shots. Which is why you have to be patient, move the ball and bump up against Wade so he begins whining to the officials and forgets to get back.
There is high emotion among the Miami team with Wade and Bosh and you can exploit that.
I’d have Deng on Wade.
Wade isn’t a very good shooter and relies on his moves to the basket. He’s played exceptionally well of late and seems over his offseason injuries. You have to put size on him and stay down on his pump fakes. You’re not blocking his shot, anyway. Make him make them. He’s streaky. You keep a hand up and move your feet like Deng can and you can make it difficult on him. The conventional wisdom is you can’t play small because they’re smalls are better than your smalls no matter who you are. But you can compete.
Then you play Taj Gibson on Bosh. Noah some as well. But Gibson can be even more physical. Chase him outside, where Bosh likes to shoot and doesn’t like you diving on the floor and upsetting his porcelin features. Bump him away from the basket. He’s one of the league’s poorest 6-11 rebounders and doesn’t care for contact. Bang him everywhere he goes.
The Heat will bring in Chris “Tattooed Birdman” Andersen to counter some of that. But he doesn’t score much and if you can get Bosh out you’ve accomplished something.
I also give fellow Marquette player Jimmy Butler a run at Wade. Butler is a fighter on the boards and can stay with Wade, though Butler’s a bit inexperienced and aggressive and will fall for that fake. I’d move Butler more onto Ray Allen, where Butler can chase. Few ever have been better than Allen in finding open spots for shots. The Heat will spread the court with penetration and kick to find Allen and Shane Battier. But an athlete like Butler can stay more attached. It’s not about shutting out Miami; it’s about limiting their main guys.
So back to that lineup: I have Deng with Wade and Gibson with Bosh. It’s not a time for too much Belinelli, who may return from his abdominal strain. He’s an addition as a scorer, but you want gritty in this game.
I have Kirk Hinrich staying hard with Mario Chalmers and Noah gets the other big with Bosh. Sorry, Joakim. This is a 40-minute game for you. Nazr Mohammed has been terrific in raising his game from the last few months playing for Noah this past weekend. But unless Miami goes back to Joel Anthony, this isn’t a game for Mohammed.
Yes, so what about LeBron with Deng on Wade and Butler on Allen?
That’s my surprise, though Thibodeau likely never would do it. I wouldn’t for a long stretch. But I’d give LeBron a dose of Nate Robinson. Now, Nate would need some talking to first. Like you’re not out there for offense. When Nate gets into those offensive flights of fancy he is somewhat casual with his defense.
But Nate is a football player. Nobody among the Bulls has taken more hard falls without any damage this season. Nobody’s probably tougher. Like that takedown of poseur Lance Stephenson last week. That was a defensive back, which Nate was at the University of Washington, making a play.
Nate’s not John Lucas. One or III. LeBron’s not jumping over him. And if he is, he better be wearing a cup.
So you get Nate up in James’ body. Nate can do it. When he sets his mind to defense, he’s good and tough. And he’ll get at the ball. LeBron’s taking him into the post at his size? Probably. But LeBron doesn’t want to play that way. It’s sort of a Don Nelson thing, the kind of strategy that might work for a game or a half or quarter. Distract them, put them off balance, make them do something they don’t want or like to do. LeBron wants to involve his teammates and then take over late. Challenge him to innovate. Maybe you get a half dozen erratic possessions.
Look, you lost to these guys by 20 at home last month, when it was only the Heat’s ninth consecutive win. It also was the only game among the 27 when the Heat scored fewer than 90 points.
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, of course. It may apply to beating the Miami Heat as well. There’s an old saying that some people should never miss a good chance to shut up. Here’s a chance to shut them up. It’s hardly going to suggest the Heat can’t win the championship. But you also can’t play them conventionally and respectfully because they’ve been anything but that for the last seven weeks.