<
>

Heat's defense does them in

Mike MillerMike Ehrmann/Getty Images Sport

Mike Miller has posted the worst defensive numbers on the Heat.

One of the first things Erik Spoelstra did as the coach of the Miami Heat was instill a defense-first mentality in his team. Even with players as talented as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, it's much easier to be consistent defensively than it is on offense. The Heat's offense has been up and down this season, but they were able to ride their aggressive, intense defense to one of the best records in the Eastern Conference.

During this losing streak, the Heat's defense hasn't been there. The Heat were torched from beyond the arc by both the Magic and the Spurs, and couldn't get key stops when they needed them against the Bulls.

On Tuesday night against Portland, the Heat played well enough offensively to win the game. Wade and James were clicking perfectly on offense, and even with both Bosh and the bench giving the Heat almost nothing, Miami was able to shoot 52 percent from the field for the game.

Unfortunately for the Heat, their defense was never good enough for them to control the game. The Heat gave up 57 points in the first half, and their defense made the question of whether LeBron or Wade should be the offensive closer temporarily moot.

Here's a look at the defensive breakdowns in the first half of the game and the last five minutes that kept the Heat from snapping their losing streak:

The Heat's defensive system is based on packing the paint, overplaying pick-and-rolls and stopping their opponent's first offensive option before the team really has a chance to execute it. On Tuesday, the Trail Blazers took advantage of the Heat's aggressive defense and countered it by making the extra pass to open shooters instead of trying their luck at the rim:

[1st Quarter, 5:52] The first example of this comes when Nicolas Batum puts the ball on the floor and begins going toward the basket. Mario Chalmers is still in front of him, and Bosh is in the correct position to provide help. Erick Dampier also sags down to the rim, and that's a mistake. Dampier's superfluous help leaves LaMarcus Aldridge wide open at the left elbow, and he drains the easy midrange jumper.

Even when the Heat didn't get caught over-helping, the Trail Blazers were able to use their ball movement to put pressure on the Heat and get points:

[1st Quarter, 3:38] LeBron showed good macro (team defense) fundamentals on this sequence, but his poor micro fundamentals gave the Trail Blazers a basket. James sags down to the paint to defend a diving Aldridge on the screen-roll, then recovers back to the top of the 3-point line to check Gerald Wallace. Instead of trying to catch-and-shoot or waiting for a play to develop, Wallace puts the ball on the floor and goes straight at the rim. Plenty of analysts, most notably Sam Smith, will gladly tell you that James' weight is too far back on his heels when he goes into a defensive stance. Usually, James is so big, so athletic and so smart that he can get away with it, but that wasn't the case here. Wallace catches him flat-footed and gets the easy layup -- in slow motion, it's amazing that James didn't fall flat on his butt.

Good ball movement is an acceptable excuse for why a defense broke down. Lapses in concentration are not, and the Heat had a few of those in the first half:

[1st Quarter, 2:23] Joel Anthony gets caught watching Andre Miller post up on the right block. Aldridge quickly moves in front of him and seals off, gets the pass, and makes the easy layup. You hate to see Anthony make a poor defensive play, because you know he's not going to get those points back on the offensive end.

[1st Quarter, 1:02] James with a double breakdown. He lets Wallace get to the baseline and shoot a layup. Wallace misses it, but the help defender is now too far out of position to get the rebound and Portland comes up with the loose ball in the scramble. James stands in no-man's-land on the ensuing possession. When Rudy Fernandez drives to the basket, James turns his back to Wallace and tries to block what would have been a low-percentage reverse layup. Fernandez instead passes to Wallace, who is open for a layup.

According to Basketballvalue.com, Mike Miller is the worst defender on the Heat by a large margin. Miller wasn't nearly as bad on defense as he was on offense Tuesday, and most of the Heat's defensive woes weren't his fault, but he still had some moments to forget:

[2nd quarter, 11:34] Miller fights through a Gerald Wallace ball-screen and gets back to Brandon Roy, but Roy is able to get his shoulder past Miller fairly easily and convert an and-1. Very poor man defense.

[2nd quarter, 9:24] Three Heaters combine to defend a Roy-Wallace pick-and-roll terribly. Bosh jumps way out to Roy's right side, anticipating a right-hand drive, and Miller stays attached to Roy's jersey instead of sagging down on Wallace, who is wide open. The help defender rotating over is poor Mike Bibby, who has no chance of stopping Wallace from getting a layup.

[2nd quarter, 4:28] Miller lets Batum get his shoulder inside of him, then fouls him as he swishes a pull-up jumper. That's twice in the same quarter that Miller has made the same mistake.

These are just the plays that can be definitively labeled as "breakdowns." The Blazers had a ton of success when they showed a pick-and-roll, waited for Wade or another defender to sag into the paint to cut off the pass, and hit an open Wes Matthews or Roy on the wing for a catch-and-shoot 3. Defending the man near the basket and leaving shooters open is partly a strategic decision, but the Heat were too quick to overplay the pick-and-roll and too slow to rotate to the shooters Tuesday.

Great teams aren't defined just by their ability to win close games, but by their ability to avoid them. The Heat missed their best chance to avoid a close game when they allowed the Trail Blazers to match them basket for basket in the first half and went into the locker room with a six-point deficit. The Heat did come out with more defensive intensity in the second half, but some key mistakes kept them from getting a potential comeback win:

[4th quarter, 4:19] Wallace gets James in isolation and puts him on his heels again, and gets to the rim after a spin move. LeBron says Wallace traveled immediately after the play, and a slow-motion replay shows Wallace might have snuck in an extra step on his spin, but that's a risk you take when you leave it in the hands of the referees instead of stopping the ball. Bad individual defense.

[4th quarter, 3:30] The Heat get caught swarming to the ball on a Aldridge post-up. All five Heat are standing within 10 feet of Aldridge with their gazes fixed on him. James unsuccessfully gambles for a weakside steal, and Aldridge kicks to an open Roy. Amazingly, James' gamble isn't what got Roy free, because Wade also was over-helping on the play. If Roy had swung the ball one more time, Matthews would have been even more wide open for a corner 3. It doesn't matter, as Roy drains the shot in rhythm. Bad team defense.

[4th quarter, 2:54] Andre Miller gets a step on Chalmers, but Bosh looks to be in a position to cut him off. The ever-crafty Miller then takes a hesitation dribble that freezes Bosh, and the only weakside defender is poor Bibby. Miller gets a layup. Bad everything defense.

The two Trail Blazers shots that sealed the game, a sweet turnaround jumper from Aldridge and an impossible clock-saving 3-pointer from Matthews, were the kind of shots that even good defensive teams have to live with, but they wouldn't have sealed the game if the Heat hadn't given up two layups and a wide-open 3 on the preceding possessions. If the Heat want to get out of this funk any time soon, they will need to play better on both ends of the floor.