The Heat’s nationally televised Friday night matchup against the Dallas Mavericks went…just as you would expect.
The offense was jammed, and Luka Doncic was having his way. The two elements that simply can’t occur.
Plus, the way to defend Miami was put right on display. Some takeaways….
#1: Dealing with Luka Doncic…
When it comes to individual scouting, there are not many players tougher than Luka Doncic. Single coverage is never going to be a possibility, as the ultimate goal is to consistently get the ball out of his hands. The Heat started in drop coverage on Doncic, as Caleb Martin was matched up to chase. On guard screens, if he went at the Tyler Herro matchup, somebody like Martin or Jimmy Butler would quickly double Doncic to get the ball out of his hands. The issue with that: the Mavericks were knocking down their open triples. Heat mixed in some zone shortly after, which Doncic looked just as comfortable with. He was just play-making right over that initial line of defense to feed it to that middle zone. The switching was the final stage among the three coverages, as Doncic and Bam each got their fair share of wins, which is as great of a matchup as you can form. Either way, the point is that Doncic can figure things out so quickly and efficiently, as seen in that first half.
#2: Victor Oladipo taking over the half-court offense early on.
As much as I talk about the Heat dealing with Doncic, the real grind for them early on was on the offensive end. Bam Adebayo had a rough start due to the constant collapsing of the Mavericks defense, and Jimmy Butler kept seeing two defenders on the catch. So, that means a lot of focus on the guards. Victor Oladipo took the reigns early on, as he kept getting two feet in the paint following that initial screen. He flowed into two immediate floaters in the lane, followed by a right flowing hook shot off the glass. He was the one guy that looked comfortable inside the arc. He capitalized his first half excellence with a transition catch and shoot three on the left wing, putting Miami in a decent position with the starters returning. As I’ve talked about a ton after games, he’s been a bright spot. Saving the offense multiple times would not have been on my checklist before the All-Star break. Yet he keeps coming through.
#3: A playoff reversal? Butler doubles and Herro inside the arc…
As I stay in that first half theme, other than Oladipo coming through for their half-court offense, Tyler Herro also picked up where he left off. He began finding his spots on his pull-ups right around the elbow, as his floaters continue to be a comfort spot. As I mentioned before with Jimmy Butler, the Mavs were doubling him off the catch often in that mid-range area. That means the extra pass is made, trying to find the open three-point shooter. Similar to the Mavs plan, yet they were actually converting from deep, knocking down 11 first half triples to the Heat’s 2. Butler seeing doubles and Herro finding a rhythm inside? It’s almost a reversal topic from a few playoff series the previous season. Herro’s play tailed off in the third quarter with a real rough stretch on both ends, but that wasn’t anything coverage related. Just interesting to note the different ways teams elect to defend the Heat’s top guys. Lastly let me add, the Mavs have usually given Butler this exact look to throw size at him and block off the rim, so this is nothing new.
#4: The three point shooting dilemma.
The Heat were the league’s number one three point shooting team in the NBA a year ago. Even aside from the high percentage shooting, the entire offensive base was predicated on simply generating looks from deep, ultimately opening up the interior for their top two guys. So far this season, they haven’t been as lucky to have that blueprint, they’ve had to work in reverse. Try to grind out paint point after paint point to eventually get some three-point looks that benefit this squad. Through the first three quarters tonight, the Heat only had 3 made triples, but more importantly, they only got up 14 of them. Erik Spoelstra’s blueprint has consistently been trying to get up 40, but if we can be completely honest, I don’t know if that’s the best thing at the moment. But when looking at a game like tonight: Butler is being doubled on every tough and Bam wasn’t his consistent self, you can’t combine those two elements with more rough outside shooting. The defense is a different conversation, but that’s pretty much the game.
#5: So, let’s talk trade deadline.
I finished the last takeaways piece asking a simple question after a dominant win against an inferior squad: could this build momentum? Well, we got our answer rather quickly. This next span would be the real measuring stick for this squad against better talent, but no matter the result, one thing should be constant: the trade deadline must be active. Instead of hammering home the same trade targets discussed over and over, a night like this gives some perspective to the build needed in their lineup. Watching Martin chase around Doncic to begin this game, it’s clear they’re missing that physical four that can match up with versatile types such as Doncic. But more importantly, they don’t need a strict defender. They seriously need some shooting. The success of a contender cannot be determined by the shooting numbers of their role players. And right now, that’s not looking too promising. A 3 and D front-court partner would be extremely useful right about now, while bringing in an extra role player or two on the wings/back-up big position. The next few weeks will be all about those possibilities.