The October 29 meeting between Miami and Orlando seems like an eternity ago. What's changed?
Seven shot attempts in the basket area -- that's all Miami surrendered to Orlando in the teams' first meeting on October 29. Although Dwight Howard played only 29 minutes after falling into early foul trouble, the Heat's razor-sharp defensive schemes deserve much of the credit for confining the Magic's half-court game to the outskirts of the perimeter. Re-watching the game nearly four weeks later is a bizarre exercise. The Heat's defense against Orlando is spinning at 78 RPM. Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and the basketball player formerly known as Joel Anthony jump out aggressively onto Jameer Nelson's shoulder on every ball screen. Those dribble-handoffs run through Dwight Howard at the top of the key? Every Magic recipient is either met by a defender on the other side or is denied altogether with the Heater playing directly on his hip. While the Magic pass the ball around the perimeter desperately searching for a way in, the Heat tighten the pressure on the ball side of the floor, doing their best Boston Celtics imitation. On the rare occasions when Nelson or other perimeter players were able to make progress or Howard received an entry pass off the block, Miami's help-line defense was quick and decisive with its rotations. We haven't seen that kind of effort from Miami in almost and month -- but beating the Magic on their home floor will demand it.
Regaining Their Stroke
As clichéd as it sounds, the Magic often live and die by the 3. The latter was their fate in the Magic’s first clash against the Heat as the Magic missed 20 of their 24 3-point attempts on their way to a 26-point loss. But outside of the Heat’s home opener, Orlando has shot 38.1 percent this season, raising the question whether the cold shooting at AmericanAirlines Arena should be attributed to the Heat’s distracting close-outs or just random luck. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra credits his D some but fears a correction. “Sometimes you can play great [defense] against Orlando and they hit 3s right in your face,” Spoelstra said Tuesday. “But you have to keep on sustaining and hopefully over the course of 48 minutes you’re able to get enough stops where they miss 3s and you’re able to secure the rebound. But you can’t expect that.”
Get to Work
The first month of the NBA season is fraught with small sample size theater and fluky outliers. But as the standings begin to settle and the jackrabbits return to the pack, there are the Orlando Magic -- atop the league in defense efficiency once again. The Magic aren't a fancy unit defensively and they won't be suckered into bad bets. They have a well-defined to-do list: First and foremost, slow the ball. Chase shooters off the line. Avoid double-teams at all costs -- even against individual talents such as James, Wade and Bosh. Don't overcommit -- when you need to help, do so quickly, then recover promptly. Miami must force Orlando into help situations and that means getting the ball to its most dangerous players in the most dangerous spots. The Magic would love nothing more than to watch James heave up quick 20-foot jumpers off uninspired high screens. The Heat will be tempted to lure Howard out of the paint by running the all-to-familiar pick-and-pop game with James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Again, Orlando will gladly cede those jumpers to Big Z (but will still close out strongly). In order for the Heat's offense to succeed in the half court, it will have to move because the Magic won't just hand James and Wade easy mismatches for one-on-one exploitation. The Heat must ask themselves what they want on a given possession, then unleash their superior speed to achieve it. Dribbling at the top of the floor won't work -- particularly with Howard patrolling the paint. Get guys the ball on the move.
Heart of Glass
First in the league in defensive efficiency -- and first in the league on the boards. It's a rare possession that the Magic give the opposition more than one opportunity to score. And even though Stan Van Gundy imposes a strict prohibition on his perimeter players crashing the glass for second chances, Orlando still has a league-average rate offensive rebounding rate. Meanwhile, Miami hovers in the middle of the pack as a rebounding squad, but it had one of its best efforts of the season in their win over Orlando. If the Heat want to duplicate that performance -- and they'll need to -- then they must play a more active game closer to the rim. Offensively, James and Wade need to do what they do best -- drive to the hole with abandon and force Orlando to collapse. When that happens, help defenders who have left their guys tend to be out of position, which creates opportunities for putbacks on the weak side glass. Defensively, Bosh, whose counterpart will be finesse-4 Rashard Lewis, and the designated pivot man can't remain grounded. And James, whose rebounding rate is the lowest since his rookie season, has to become a hungrier presence on the boards. If nothing else, it'll allow him to ignite a few breaks and get a handful of coast-to-coast buckets.
Turnovers Igniting the Break
A season ago, the Orlando Magic were the proud owners of the league’s second best offense in the league but it’s slid 6.1 points per 100 possessions since then. What’s the problem? Magic point guards have been uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball. That’s especially true for newcomer Chris Duhon whose turnover rate so far in a Magic uniform has doubled his career norm. Jameer Nelson and Duhon combined for 5 turnovers in the Oct. 29 matchup. The Heat should be licking their chops since the transition game is the only thing that seems to be working offensively and turnovers award them those opportunities. Additionally, if the Heat seek to disarm Dwight Howard defensively, causing turnovers and jumping out in transition will be their best option.