On the season, the Heat, who face the Knicks tonight, are second-best in fewest turnovers per game (13.3). But in their previous four contests, excluding their win over the Lakers on Christmas Day, they averaged 15.8 fumbles. That would put them in the basement with some of the league's worst teams (Warriors -- 15.9 tpg; Wizards -- 16.1; Clippers -- 16.7; Timberwolves -- 17.3; and Bobcats -- 17.6). And their assists weren't better either at 16.8 per game, which was 3.3 worse than their season average.
So how are they overcoming their high turnover rate to come away with Ws? Here are three things the Knicks have to be aware of in Miami:
First of all, true the increased fumbles are a stain, but they show that the Heat are more aggressive in their offensive schemes, whereas they started the season easing into their new roles and playing more patient ball. Don't forget Dwyane Wade missed all but three minutes of the preseason after suffering a pulled hamstring, so the team was missing one of their three most important links to develop chemistry. Now, Wade and LeBron James are playing off each other better (Wade as the off-guard and James as the point-forward) and they're stepping up their attack to create more scoring opportunities for themselves and for their teammates. Usually they've been for themselves as James and Wade are both averaging career lows in dishing and the Heat rank 21st in the league in assists per game (20.1). Unbelievably against the Lakers, the Heat had one of their best assist-to-turnover games (25 to 9), so the Knicks will have to make sure to squeeze tighter on penetration gaps, get their hands in passing lanes and not all get sucked into the paint when James or Wade drives. Against the Lakers, the superstar duo did a masterful job of collapsing three to four members of the purple and gold's defense close to the basket, giving Chris Bosh easy jumpshot or dunk opportunities.
Also on offense, point guard Mario Chalmers has been filling Mike Miller's shoes with his stellar three-point shooting. In the first two months of the season, Chalmers, who was replaced by Carlos Arroyo in the starting lineup and was in head coach Erik Spoelstra's doghouse, played sporadic minutes and most of the time, he wouldn't even score. But during the month of December, he found his way back into the rotation, playing more than 25 minutes per game consistently, and he has connected on 25 threes in 14 games (40.3 3FG%). Soon, Spoelstra expects Miller, who is just returning from a severe injury to his right thumb, to be adjusted to the Heat's system (Sun Sentinel). "The plan already had been the next two or three weeks it'll be probably slow, as we work him in, and then see how his confidence and comfort level and rhythm go after that. But we'll try to fit him in," he said, who is right now comfortable with the rotation of James and James Jones at small forward. "Probably when we do, it'll be a little bit more when we play small and maybe move LeBron or J.J. to the four."
Last but not least, the Knicks, who are 22nd worst in turnovers per game (15.3), have to protect the ball much better tonight and be more cautious with their crosscourt passes. While the Heat is the bottom half of the league in steals per game on the season (6.9), in their last five games they're averaging 8.6 thefts. They've been able to jump out on ball movement reads quicker, utilizing their athleticism on the perimeter.
To that last point, the Heat's defensive rotations in the halfcourt set hurt the Knicks in their first meeting, especially when the 'Bockers ran the pick-and-roll. The Heat did a superb job of limiting the spacing between Raymond Felton and Amare Stoudemire to prevent Felton from getting open looks and Stoudemire from getting clear paths to the basket. They'll have to inject a bit more improv into their two-man game and Felton has to be careful not to force or telegraph his passes, which was the case a couple of times against Miami. Speaking of Stoudemire, tonight he'll have to fight for better position down low because the Heat, thanks to Joel Anthony who showed he was a surprisingly good one-on-one defender against the agile and physical STAT, forced him into taking more jumpshots and fallaway runners.
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