Heat’s versatile lineup raises questions for Spurs

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After a long wait, the San Antonio Spurs finally know who they’re facing in the NBA Finals. While the Indiana Pacers put up a valiant effort in forcing the Miami Heat into a complete seven game series, it’s no surprise that the Spurs tip-off with LeBron James and Co. in Game 1 of the Finals on Thursday night.

The strangest thing about this series is how little we know about how these two teams match up. When they last faced each other on Easter Sunday, the Heat sat James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers. I’m sure you’re familiar with the first time this season these two teams met. They faced just once in last season’s lockout-shortened schedule, although Wade and Manu Ginobili didn’t feature, and Richard Jefferson was still on the Spurs. So in effect, you can’t take much from that one either.

All this to say that we really have little idea of what to expect in terms of matchups between these two, although, looking at some of the data available there is some cause for concern for the Spurs.

The Heat garnered some fame this season for, among other things, going to a sort of position-less style of play. While not wholly accurate — Chris Bosh doesn’t bring the ball up the floor or anything — Miami has managed to blur the lines between the traditional five positions. That’s been possible thanks to two things: LeBron James’ transcendent talent and Bosh’s ability to extend his shooting range out to the 3-point line. Now the Heat can play a wide-open offense that attacks opposing defenses at multiple points and stretches those defenses to the breaking point.

Two of the Heat’s three most-used lineups during the regular season featured James as the de facto power forward and Bosh as the center. Miami’s second most used lineup in terms of minutes played during the regular season boasted a 117.2 offensive efficiency and a 97.5 defensive efficiency. Their third most used lineup had a 114.9 offensive efficiency and a 94.9 defensive efficiency. The 97.5 defensive efficiency in that first group is the only number not good enough to lead the entire league for a team efficiency, and it still would’ve finished second.

This is a problem for the Spurs. Yes, Kawhi Leonard is a capable small-ball 4 and someone who was brought in to defend the likes of James. While guarding LeBron is an impossible task and one that relies on team defense more than any one individual, that’s not where the problem is. Where the Spurs are vulnerable is with Bosh.

During the playoffs, San Antonio’s small lineup featuring Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Leonard and Tim Duncan has played 39 minutes and (small sample size theater) has a -25.3 net rating. While Duncan was an NBA All-Defensive second team selection, his strength lies in protecting the paint. If he has to extend his defense out to the 3-point line to cover Bosh, the Spurs are more than vulnerable at the rim. They’re sitting ducks.

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has gone to Tiago Splitter as the lone big in moments where the Spurs need to be more mobile defensively, often on plays late in games where San Antonio would like to switch every screen. But Coach Pop can’t play Splitter over Duncan for long stretches against the Heat.

The Spurs have had several days to gameplan for each outcome of Monday night’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 7. Now that the Heat have emerged victorious, the Gregg Popovich and his staff have another couple of days to fine tune their strategy. Faced with a team capable of playing the best player in the world wherever they want, likely in places that will wreak havoc for your defense, Coach Pop has his work cut out for him.

I don’t envy him right now.

Lineup data courtesy of NBA.com/Stats

  • Adam

    I’m just gonna leave this here: Tracy McGrady.

  • Cheyenne Harty

    I generally tend to like 48-moh analyses, but I find myself a little stumped on this one. Bosh is a career 28 percent shooter, and he averaged about the same percentage this season. So why would Duncan step out to the three to guard him. Have a non-big shove a hand in Bosh’s mug and let him shoot. An acceptable risk, no?

  • Tim in Surrey

    It’s interesting to me that EVERY analysis I’ve seen focuses almost entirely on San Antonio’s problems guarding Miami and whether San Antonio’s two big men can pose similar problems for Miami to Indiana’s Roy Hibbert. But nobody seems to be focusing on Miami’s problems guarding the Spurs. The Heat don’t have anybody on their entire roster who can handle Tony Parker, either at the point of attack (sorry Mario and Norris, but you won’t be able to press Tony into turnovers like you did George Hill–nor Manu, for that matter) or at the rim. And the only guy they can realistically use to guard Tim is Bosh, unless they play big (which eliminates the lineups you’re proposing). And if they do that without another big nearby Tim will punish Bosh mercilessly inside. The result is not one but two players who will collapse Miami’s defense on a regular basis, leaving a variety of openings for the Spurs’ numerous three-point threats. And that’s without even considering Tiago as a threat in the pick-and-roll with Tony, Manu’s ability to induce sheer chaos for any defense, or Kawhi’s ability to generate easy baskets with offensive rebounds and steals. Miami’s going to have their hands full, too, and in a long series I like the Spurs’ ability to adjust better than Miami’s.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Yes, and actually DeJuan Blair will be quite valuable on Lebron, too. His feet are surprisingly quick and he’s got comparable size and strength to Lebron. The best strategy is to guard Lebron against the drive and the dish, be physical, and use a gauntlet of big, strong guys with six fouls each. Lebron is the least dangerous from fifteen feet away, either at the free throw line or shooting jumpers. Meanwhile, cover everybody else and keep Tim, Tony, Manu, and Tiago out of foul trouble.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Who cares? We don’t need Blair’s offense. Six rough fouls on Lebron and 2-3 extra possessions from offensive rebounds will do nicely.

  • Len

    I was replying to Southern Dandy, who initially said that Blair’s post game would be effective.

  • New_Mexico_Spurs_Fan

    I’ll just put this out there: Bonner covers Bosh.

  • gloomis99

    Wow. People think Diaw can guard Lebron? Not so much. We need to try to funnel Lebron away from straight down the lane drives, stick to Miller and Allen and see if Bosh and Wade can beat us with midrange shots. Lebron will get his but if we can mitigate him getting easy ones and chase people off the three we have a shot and winning this thing. Basically, Lebron is a more dominant version of Tony and the Heats goals will be like ours. Duncan=Bosh, Ginobili=Wade and Allen and Miller = Leonard and Green. Leonard and Green will have to make dribble drive pull ups to punish Heat for crazy aggression. Also, someone needs to give Bosh a nice jab to the mouth so he’ll be too afraid to come in the lane. He’s had some success v the Spurs and I’ll be really annoyed if he has a big series. go spurs.

  • Titletown99030507d

    What he’s saying is once LBJ gets passed KL Splitter has a decent chance to draw a nice foul against an LBJ bull dozing to the rim. Because that’s what Splitter does well. He will take charges all night long like nobody’s business.

  • Titletown99030507d

    I would like to see his size throw a curve at the heat defense.

  • Titletown99030507d

    He will be good in those stretches to draw a few fouls as well. DB is disciplined enough to take those charges. He’s a big dude as well.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Wow. I see it closer. The Grizz didn’t have anybody close to resembling LBJ. I’m not worried about LBJ posting up against our bigs it’s when he’s torpedoing to the lane that scares the crap out of me.

  • Titletown99030507d

    I believe Splitter will be a huge key in this series.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Agree if LBJ gets 30 so be it but we need to stay home with those perimeter shooters of theirs.

  • Titletown99030507d

    I think Battier can shoot over Blair.

  • Titletown99030507d

    He’s good for 6 fouls. Frustrate LBJ and keep him from getting those crazy lobs and easy points in the lane. There should be no easy points for LBJ in the paint.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Diaw can drain the 3 where Blair isn’t known for that.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Yeah focus on LBJ shooting long jumpers and his team mates watching is good for us. Having 2 bigs on the floor can make that happen.

  • Titletown99030507d

    But is he quick enough?

  • Titletown99030507d

    Everybody’s talking about LBJ in this series. We know what he can do but what are they going to do to stop Tony? Chalmers? LBJ’s points are a wash with Tony’s point production and assists. Who has the advantage after that?

  • Southern_Dandy

    If Blair is out there at all, Battier won’t be. Which is the point. Spoelstra doesn’t play Battier against physical 4s.

  • Graham

    Blair’s not physical, at least not like West was. The only time he is is crashing the boards, and even then not often.

  • Graham

    I doubt he’ll get the calls against LeBron, sadly.

  • Southern_Dandy

    Blair can better approximate what Boozer/West do against the Heat than Bonner and Diaw would.

  • Graham

    Absolutely. Can he punish Miami every time they go small? If he can we will control the matchups, and THEN we are in great position to win the series.

  • Graham

    Much rather have Diaw doing Diaw things and Bonner being a threat than have Blair being an extremely poor man’s Boozer this series.

  • Southern_Dandy

    Bonner won’t be a threat in this series. That Miami D is closes out too fast for him to get his shot off, which will force him to give it up or, worse, put it on the floor. When Bonner’s on the floor, Spurs will be playing 4-on-5. Diaw will be more useful, but again, it doesn’t really force the Heat to do anything they aren’t used to. if the Spurs don’t force the Heat out of their normal rotations, then they’re going to lose. Probably very quickly.

  • Graham

    The very act of having bonner out there pulls a defender away from the paint, giving tony more room. Defensive 3 seconds is still a thing. Bonner’s earned a chance to see if he can keep his improved play going. If he’s able to hit, our O becomes monstrous.

    Diaw absolutely forces the Heat into unfamiliar territory. Say Miami Traps hard on TP in the corner. Diaw pops up the the top of the 3, gets a bounce pass from Tony and immediately has an open man he is so good at finding. This will happen several times a game and simply having Diaw on (or Manu) will prevent Miami from Trapping, and they are forced out of their familiar defensive schemes.

    Altering our rotations won’t force the Heat to change theirs. They absolutely will let Blair try and beat them. That’s not a winning formula for us.

  • Southern_Dandy

    Bonner is 2 for his last 9 from three. I don’t know that he’s earned anything of the sort. And its not going to get easier for him to find space against Miami. Yes, IF he’s able to hit, we’re in terrific shape. But if he continues to shoot poorly, then he’s useless. Using Blair in the post is a much more effective strategy than crossing our fingers and hoping Bonner is on. The Pacers showed that the Heata absolutely would change their rotations if presented with lineups that negated their advantages when they play small ball.

  • Southern_Dandy

    Your faith in Green is admirable, but misplaced. He’s not going to be able to lockdown Dwyane Wade. Leonard might have the best chance to slow Lebron, but if he can’t, and Green can’t stop Wade, then the Spurs are dead in the water. Just because Leonard is our best wing defender doesn’t mean he’ll be able to stop Lebron, or even significantly slow him down. You beat the heat not by trying to take away Lebron, its by putting him on an island. We’ve seen this for years, in both Cleveland and Miami.

  • Graham

    Only problem is Blair is not West. Not even close. Blair in the post is giving us nothing, I’d rather have Diaw in the post than Blair. That ‘advantage’ you think we would have is fool’s gold.

  • Southern_Dandy

    I’m aware that he’s not West. He is however closer to that kind of player than Diaw or Bonner.

    If it’s true that the advantage that Blair provides is fool’s gold, then it may be that there is no way for the Spurs to win this series. The Spurs execution, as tight as it is, will not be enough against Miami’s D, and we have no hope of beating them on talent. Our only hope was to take them out of their comfort zone, even if it meant taking us out of ours somewhat. If we can’t do that successfully, then we can’t win.

  • Graham

    The spurs have plenty of ways to take the Heat out of their comfort zone as is. Drastic changes only lessen our ability to do that. It’s a battle of who can execute better with their core lineups, and surrendering that battle before it’s fought is asking for us to lose.

  • Graham

    Giving LeBron a line to the rim is a HORRIBLE idea. He’s able to pick apart our defense if we do that. He is absolutely capable of dropping 50 to 60 points every game if we offer token resistance. Having LeBron flush 10 to 15 dunks on us is going to really take the team out of the game and hurt us on offense.

    Green CAN stop Wade. Wade’s working off a bum leg and is a shadow of himself right now. Leonard on him is a waste of resources checking Wade, and Green will get PULVERIZED if he’s on LeBron for long stretches. Look at what he did to George Hill.