Heat's defensive focus shifts to the paint

Tyson ChanlderAP Photo/Lynne Sladky

All eyes are on Jeremy Lin, but Miami won't overlook Tyson Chandler and New York's formidable front.

MIAMI - Dwyane Wade insists the Miami Heat have paced -- and braced -- themselves for Linsanity.

"We're going to answer it today, we'll have to answer it tomorrow, and then we'll move on," Wade said Wednesday when asked if his team had already grown weary of facing relentless questions about the overnight sensation that is New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin. "Well, nah. All-Star weekend, we'll be asked about him, too. But after that, we'll move on."

Wade, whose Heat team is familiar with being a major topic throughout league circles, actually seemed to embrace the reversal of roles.

"The biggest thing is he's winning," Wade said of Lin. "They're winning. He's the leading catalyst of that. I'm sure guys have had to answer questions about us, and they were like, 'Oh Jesus, not this again.' But that's what this league is about. Once we get done with this game and All-Star Weekend, we can move on and answer other questions."

Considering the run the Knicks have been on recently since inserting the now-popular point guard into the lineup, there's no doubt that all eyes will be on Lin when New York visits Miami on Thursday for one of the most anticipated matchups in the league this season.

Despite all of the hype, the Heat's focus extends well beyond finding a way to contain Lin, who has led the Knicks to nine victories in the 11 games since he emerged as the starter. Miami, which enters the game with the league's best record at 26-7, has the star power to account for New York's potentially prolific scorers in Lin, Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith.

But a bigger problem for the Heat could be figuring out a way to match-up with the Knicks' inside tandem of Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. Miami has gotten away with playing smaller lineups, finishing games almost exclusively with Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem rotating at center.

Not even the Orlando Magic, who have the league's most dominant center in Dwight Howard, could effectively exploit the matchup advantage they had inside during last Sunday's 90-78 loss to the Heat. But few teams have the kind of length and athleticism at the power forward and center spots as the Knicks, with both Stoudemire and Chandler becoming bigger factors since Lin took over control of the offense.

Chandler, who had essentially been a forgotten man in the offense, has regained his finishing touch around the rim and is averaging 13.3 points and 10 rebounds on 75.3 percent shooting in road games this season.

Stoudemire is trying to shake off a rusty start to the season and is again showing flashes of brilliance in the pick-and-roll game, specifically with Lin facilitating the initial set. Stoudemire has averaged 19.1 points and shot an improved 48.5 percent this month. The Knicks also have grabbed at least 14 offensive rebounds in three of their past four games.

When the Heat and Knicks met a month ago, Lin hadn't yet cracked the rotation and neither Stoudemire nor Chandler were significant factors in a game that saw New York attempt 43 shots from 3-point range in a 99-89 Miami victory at AmericanAirlines Arena.

But the Heat are preparing for a more balanced approach from the Knicks, who are equally capable of jacking up 43 shots from beyond the arc one game as well as scoring 54 points in the paint like they did in Wednesday's home blowout against the Atlanta Hawks.

"If you don't have (defensive) habits built up, it can be an absolute nightmare trying to defend them," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "To defend a system like that, you have to do it team-wise. If one guy breaks down, it will invariably lead to a wide-open 3. You can't prepare for them in one day. This has to be weeks and months of (defensive) habits."

Those habits for the Heat, a top-five defensive team in the league, start with an all-hands-on-deck commitment to protect the paint and compensate for their lack of significant bulk in the middle.

"With the way they shoot the ball, we can't give them 3s and give them paint points," Haslem said of the Knicks. "So we've got to try to take care of the paint first. No easy baskets, then close out on the 3s. Our defensive principles don't change. Protect the paint. Make them spray the ball. It's not an easy style to play defensively, but it's been working for us. We understand our recipe for success."

For the Heat, that recipe involves keeping a close eye on Lin but also putting a body or three on Stoudemire and Chandler.

"That's huge for us," center Joel Anthony said. "Everyone talks about Jeremy Lin. But Stoudemire, on any given night, can explode and you don't want to be in a position where he's affecting a game like that. And we know Chandler can have a huge impact with those lobs and his activity around the basket. So we definitely have to find a way to neutralize that or it doesn't matter what happens on the perimeter. We've put ourselves in a tough situation if we can't handle what goes on inside."

The Heat have had success mixing defensive coverages, which, at times, has even included gimmicks such as LeBron James defending the center to combat size with quickness. During its seven-game winning streak, Miami has won the rebounding battle six times and has not allowed a team to score 50 points in the paint.

Maintaining those benchmarks remain a priority against the Knicks.

"We don't really care about size much here," Bosh said. "It's just really some numbers on paper. Our goal is to outrebound every team we play. It never really changes. We just look at what our job is, and we plan to do our job again (Thursday)."