Terry Pluto offers to fix the Heat’s late-game problems

Miami Heat forward LeBron James watches the action from the bench in the first half against the Charlotte Bobcats in an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, North Carolina on February 4, 2011. UPI/Nell Redmond

Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer says a simple play will fix the Miami Heat’s fourth quarter problems.

Any person with basic basketball knowledge realizes Miami could fix its late-game misery with a simple play. Wade dribbles the ball at the top of the key — and James sets a pick. Then James rolls to the basket, which will cause any defense major problems. Wade either has an open jumper, or James can catch a pass for a layup.

But as Cavs fans know, James rarely set picks. He loathes the pick-and-roll unless he has the ball. Over the years, he often waived off a pick and preferred to play 1-on-1 with four teammates watching in clutch situations.

He does the same with the Heat.

Pluto’s play probably isn’t going to work on a regular basis. Ball screens are typically big/small situations where a post player comes to set a screen for the ball handler, who is generally a guard. It’s set up this way because it makes it difficult/impossible for the two defenders to switch. If Erik Spoelstra implemented Pluto’s play, LeBron’s defender would simply switch to Wade (and Wade’s defender would switch to LeBron), and no advantage would be gained. That’s why you don’t often see ball screens with two similarly-sized offensive players.

That’s not to say that the Heat don’t need to do something different as the clock winds down. They do. But a LeBron/Wade ball screen is not the solution.

As Pluto mentions in the piece, the Heat are relying too much on clearing out for LeBron in end-of-game situations. I’d try a pick-and-roll with LeBron and Bosh on the wing, with LeBron heading back towards the the top of the key, while the other two Heat players set a double screen for Wade on the opposite side of the floor. That way, LeBron has three or four moves he could make. If Bosh’s man double-teams him, (1) he hits Bosh on the pop for a wide open 16-footer. If his man is slow to get through the ball screen, (2) he can penetrate into the lane looking to score or possibly (3) kick it out to a shooter in the opposite corner. He could also (4) hit Wade on the other wing, who should have an advantage when he catches the ball because his defender has to fight through a double screen.

The Heat would have to start this play with 10 or 12 seconds on the clock to give themselves enough time to make a few passes, but such action would take the predictability out of the Heat’s offense in end-of-game situations. They would be taking what the defense gives them instead of trying to force a long jumper or bulling their way into the lane.

When I put together our NBA Preview, I predicted the Heat would win the East and lose to the Lakers in the Finals. When we published our Year End Sports Review, I predicted the Celtics would upend the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Now I’m not even sure they’ll get past the Knicks in a potential first round matchup and a semifinal series against the Bulls isn’t looking too good, either. That doesn’t mean that the Heat experiment is a categorical failure. It just means that it might take a year or two to get this thing working.

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