If someone told you before the season that the Heat would be at the top of the Eastern Conference despite Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo each missing extended time, you wouldn't have believed them, right?
Well, here we are.
The Heat have missed the eighth-most games to injury this season, and yet they find themselves atop the Eastern Conference mountain with the playoffs just around the corner. Granted, the gap between them and the three teams behind them isn't particularly large, but all the signs point towards them entering the postseason with the No. 1 seed, not falling in the standings.
Furthermore, the Heat at full strength are going to be a problem in the playoffs. Erik Spoelstra has proven himself to be arguably the league's best tactician and while there are some questions about their offense, there are none about their defense.
The Heat are holding opponents to 107.4 points per 100 possessions on the season, tying them in fifth place in defensive efficiency with the Mavericks. Impressive as it is considering how in flux their roster has been, that number only paints part of the picture. It's how the Heat can lock teams up that stands out.
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The head of the snake is Lowry, who has never made an All-Defensive Team despite having long been one of the best defenders at his position. He might only be 6-foot tall, but Lowry plays bigger than his size — good l stephen curry black jersey youth uck backing him down in the post — and he's as good as it gets at drawing charges. (There's a reason some have joked rebel sport stephen curry jersey that Lowry's statue outside of Scotiabank Arena should be of him drawing a charge.)
S steph curry jersey tee urrounding him are Butler and PJ Tucker, two of the nastiest and toughest wing defenders in the league. Butler and Tucker consistently defend the opposing team's best perimeter player, and they're more than capable of defending both guard positions and both forward positions, making them two of the most versatile defenders in the entire league.
Butler doubles as one of the league's most disruptive defenders, with few players coming up with more steals and deflections than him on NBA Shorts a per-game basis. At risk of sounding too nerdy, his positioning and anticipation are off the charts.
Last but not least, Adebayo, who is going to be in the All-Defen NBA Accessories sive and Defensive Player of the Year conversation this season and man Jayson Tatum y more years to come. We talk a lot about players who can defend every position. Adebayo is one of few who legitimately can, allowing the Heat to switch at a rate only one other team can match.
“[He] enables us to switch pick-and-rolls, instead of having to trap and make everybody rotate,” Dewayne Dedmon said of Adebayo. “He’s the best defender 1-through-5 that I’ve seen in a while.”
Adebayo has had some defensive stops lately that will make you fall out of your seat.
That's fo stephen curry authentic home jersey ur defenders who are not only strong, versatile and oh-so pesky, but each one of them is a defensive genius. stephen curry jersey nike classic In the 348 minutes Lowry, Butler, Tucker and Adebayo have shared the court together, they've allowed only — gulp — 95.3 points per 100 possessions, which is equivalent to the best defensive rating in the league by a country mile.
All of that versatility and IQ shows on sequences like this, where all Lowry, Butler, Tucker and Adebayo move on a string to cover what feels like every inch of the court:
Yeah … good luck scoring against that on a consistent basis.
Of course, even the best defenses sacrifice something. For the Heat, they're currently giving up the third-most 3s per game, a byproduct of how aggressively they help, rotate and scramble. Opponents aren't connecting on them at a particularly high rate, but they are at risk of teams getting hot from the perimeter.
Second, with the amount they switch, the Heat are vulnerable to offensive rebounds. Case in point: Dorian-Finney Smith recording not one, but two offensive rebounds on a single possession. It also opens the door for teams to target Adebayo by forcing a switch and pulling him as far away from the action as possible, similar to what teams used to do to Kawhi Leonard when he was at the peak of his defensive powers in San Antonio.
Even so, the scary thing about the Heat is they don't have to switch to play to the strengths of their core. They can defend more traditionally when needed — the Heat are more than capable of playing a drop coverage and they aren't afraid to play some zone — making them built to defend pretty much everyone and anyone.
The only real question is who is going to be the fifth player on the court for the Heat when it matters most. Valuable as his 3-point shooting is, Duncan Robinson doesn't have the on-ball juice to solve some of the halfcourt issues they could run into when the game slows down. Tyler Herro ticks the box of being a shooter and a creator, but teams will almost certainly look to attack him Giannis Antetokounmpo defensively when he's on the floor.
The Heat have a few more weeks to figure that out. What's important is they know four of the five players they're going to close with and what they're going to get out of each one of them — the type of in-your-face defense no team is going to want a part of in a seven-game series.