Tag Archive for: Kyle Lowry

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Wizards

The Miami Heat faced the Washington Wizards again on Wednesday night, except they were slightly healthier.

Tyler Herro returned, Kyle Lowry shined, and we witnessed another blown lead.

Either way, Miami’s going to take a win in any form.

So, here are some takeaways…

#1: Kyle Lowry’s offensive resurgence continues.

Off a rough road trip for this Heat team where they went 0-4, I’m pretty comfortable saying there was only one single bright spot: Kyle Lowry. Pushing his limits to play close to 48 minutes is one thing, but actually being productive is another. Fast forward to tonight with Miami piecing some guys back together, he shined even more. He began the game with a very solid approach of generating constant paint touches to get this team decent looks without their two main shooters, but then his own three ball began to fall. He opened up the game going 5 for 5 from three, just simply taking the pull-up above the break threes when they were sitting there. For a team that hasn’t had their legs as of late with the extended minutes, Lowry isn’t a part of that grouping at the moment, which is a good sign. Summary: he’s been great.

#2: My take on the man/zone balance for this current Heat squad.

I spend a lot of time on these pieces talking about the 2-3 zone or Miami’s defensive structure in general, but the timing of utilizing each base is more intriguing. For example, Spoelstra doesn’t *want* to be playing this much zone defense all game, but he’s forced to with the current state of the roster. Yet tonight, it felt like there were times where it wasn’t the only choice. A lineup of Lowry-Martin-Highsmith-Cain-Bam was put out there for a long stretch in the second quarter, as Miami sat back in the 2-3 zone. For clarity, it did its job by forcing those push shots in the middle of the floor, but that’s a 5 man pairing that can guard straight up. They didn’t have many issues defending tonight, but it’s just something to monitor. Lineups with two below average defenders should call for immediate zone, but a solid defensive grouping shouldn’t settle there for too long.

#3: Caleb Martin playing well…as a 3? Who knew?

If you are scrolling down social media and click on the profile of Caleb Martin, you would see his bio states Miami Heat guard. Yet as we see often in Miami, guys eventually size up their position. In Martin’s case, it’s been an abrupt adjustment since it occurred in the starting lineup with certain shoes to fill. He’s been very good this season, but the opinion on him sway since it’s clear he’s just in the wrong position. With Jovic and Bam making up the front-court tonight, he was able to slide to the three. And well, he was able to slide into a familiar play-style. Less worries about screen, less hand-off feeding, more half-court flowing and moving with and without the ball. He was a big part of the early offense with his slashing, and that just projects forward to where he should be placed in the near future.

#4: The Heat’s trend of giving up leads is literally not a joke.

Whenever the Heat gather a lead close to 20 points, we often are inclined to make jokes this season like ‘well, this is going to be a tie game in a few right?’ But the thing about that is it’s not a joke, it continues to occur night in and night out. Once again in this one, the Wizards climb back in the third as the offense gets stale and the transition defense continues to leak. But it makes us question: logistically, why is it happening? That’s a film dive for another time to get the full scoop, but off the top of my head, a twenty point lead means weaker rotations. A twenty point lead means settling for looks in the half-court. But with this group, they just can’t settle at all. It’s a trend that’s extremely problematic healthy or not.

#5: Tyler Herro returns.

Tyler Herro finally came back after being out for close to three weeks, and well we almost saw another set back. He rose up on Porzigis at the rim, and hit the floor hard on his back. He laid there for a bit which seemed like a stinger, then foul trouble sat him out a good portion of that first half. Onto the second half, it was clear he was just searching for some sort of rhythm. A couple pull-up triples seemed to be the one sign of that, but he still wasn’t looking like himself all the way. His overall movement on the floor and overall disposition, which I wonder if it had anything to do with that earlier fall, since I doubt it was the ankle. Never should expect too much in a return game anyway, but he did have a big bucket late which got him into that flow he was looking for. Three point game, he hit a tough step back three on the left wing to give Miami an offensive jolt. Kuzma answered with an and-1 to cut it back to three, but Herro’s reverse hand-off action with Bam led to back to back triples. His fourth quarter performance *was* Tyler Herro, which this offense needs extremely.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Timberwolves

The Miami Heat played the Minnesota Timberwolves on the second night of a back to back, and well, they fell yet again.

They came out firing with high energy, but like most nights, it all faded.

Some takeaways:

#1: Heat first half takeaway- intention in two places: boxing out and a shift in the 2-3 zone.

The Heat were coming off a night in Cleveland where they essentially couldn’t defend the Cavs in the 2-3 zone, while also not gobbling up any boards. Yet tonight, it was clear from the jump that they shifted their attention. While the Timberwolves do have a lengthy front-court in Karl Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, they have not been a good rebounding team. The Heat, who were much smaller, sent 3 to 4 bodies at the rim for box-outs and crowded boards, sensing some intention. On the 2-3 zone side of things, they were continuing to force the shots in the middle of the floor that I harp on. Towns was getting it to go, but the portion of kick-outs Miami was forcing fell in their favor. Minnesota shot 3 of 25 (12%) in the first half from beyond the arc, which the Heat’s rotations deserve most of that credit. Then the third quarter happened, where all of those numbers were thrown out the window. The timberwolves put up 37 in the third, where Miami shifted to a lot of man, and hit the three at a high clip.

#2: A standout moment from Nikola Jovic.

Nikola Jovic started at the 4 next to Bam Adebayo yet again, but there was less intention to solely feed him early in this game. They wanted to find their base with the Lowry-Bam PnR, then work him in. Yet he wasn’t finding that same rhythm as the outside jumper wasn’t falling, which usually leads into a dark path for young players like himself. But we saw a different response. After some poor offensive possessions, he was crashing the boards and embracing the grab and go system completely. He ran into transition with intention, as Max Strus trotted on his left to the wing. On back to back plays, we saw the same exact formula: transition, Jovic assist, Strus three. For him to be confident enough to run the floor and make decisions after being blitzed early on, that could be one of the most promising signs I’ve seen to date.

#3: Miami’s updated usage of role players…

It’s hard to have offensive diversity when dealing with a short-handed roster with heavy minutes for guys like Haywood Highsmith and Jamal Cain, but Erik Spoelstra found a way to change some minor things up in the first half. With the same roster as last night, minus Duncan Robinson, they needed a positional shift in the half-court for the role players. Banking on threes from Orlando Robinson, Highsmith, and Cain types won’t work when the opposing team is intentionally helping off that corner “spacer.” But the key is they aren’t spacers, so don’t use them as if they are. That was the shift from Miami in this one, as they just constantly sent those two young wings streaking down open lanes and cutting to create some chaos. Highsmith and Cain went on a 9-0 run by themselves in that first half, hammering that alone. Then that led into Highsmith knocking down the outside jumper, which absolutely opens up their half-court offense when dealing with that weak-side helper.

#4: The ball-handling reps for Miami are eye opening with short-handed roster.

As I talked about after last night’s game, one of the main issues with the offense was the lack of shot creation from the guards. Every two-man action is run through two different guys: Kyle Lowry, who we know as the primary set-up man generally, and Max Strus. They were running high PnR after high PnR for Strus in this one, not because there was a match-up they liked, but due to the fact that was their only option. Yes they have Bam Adebayo and Nikola Jovic, but they aren’t guard creators that are necessary to run a consistent high powered offense. Many of the creators should be back after this one, but it’s pretty clear that there’s a lot on the plate of Lowry at the moment as the sole option in the ball-handling room.

#5: Late-game execution watch…

With 5 minutes left in this game, the Heat trailed by 3. The Lowry-Bam PnR spam continued, and the Heat couldn’t hit open threes. Not only could they not make those shots, but free throws were bouncing out. The offense for Minnesota was consistently on the shoulders of Anthony Edwards, who had a big night, yet he kept walking away with empty possessions. Bam Adebayo walked into a pull-up mid range jumper under four minutes to go, tying this one up at 99. Back on the other end, a foul was called on Kyle Lowry who felt he got all ball with a block on McDaniels, which Miami challenged and won. Big swing for the time being. After a miss for Miami, Russell hit a baseline jumper to take the lead by 2. Shortly after, Lowry took a charge on the driving Towns to foul him out of the game, showing some more hope. But well, that faded quickly. The Heat’s offense didn’t show up for most of this one, and a late step back three from Strus summed it all up. They don’t have options at the moment.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Shorthanded Night in Washington

Well this was a wild one.

The Heat having seven available players battled like no other in Washington, really showcasing themselves individually on all fronts.

Yet they came up just short in OT.

Here are some takeaways…

#1: Throwback Kyle Lowry appearance?

This wasn’t a normal night in the NBA. Kyle Lowry was the sole veteran on the floor for Miami who had 7 available players, and he turned back the clock. After the extensive talks about his physical conditioning this off-season, he went out in Washington and played every second of that first half, dropped 14 points with 9 assists and 7 rebounds. But beyond the stats, he was the engine to every action they ran. Off a miss, he was running with the young guys breaking free in transition. In the half-court, they did what they always do without their main guys: run post splits non-stop. They used Lowry as a hub in that high-post to hit cutters off stagger screens, which is where the lay-ups and trips to the foul line were coming from. Good stuff.

#2: The rookie Nikola Jovic is here, and he shouldn’t be going anywhere in terms of this rotation.

Nikola Jovic has been given opportunity in the midst of the loaded injury report, and it might have just cemented his spot in the rotation for good. All teams need sometimes is an extra eye of game-time from a young guy, and that seems like the case for Jovic. He’s played a role he’s uncomfortable with to say the least, and still played it at a high level with zero experience. That’s usually the tell. Offensively he’s just a supreme talent. A skilled passer on the move or stationary, moves off the ball at levels that even I didn’t expect, and can shoot/score when put in a position to do so. Let’s save the starting four conversation for another occasion with deeper dialogue, but the rotation stuff should be a no brainer on this roster. He’s a lock in the big man room. (With more to explore next to Bam…)

#3: Orlando Robinson showing some skill.

Tonight’s game was one for the kids (which feels wild to say with them being older than me), and we got a deeper look into specific skill-sets at the end of the roster. The one who debuted tonight was Orlando Robinson, who we saw for a bit in Heat Summer League next to Jovic. But I’d say he was pretty solid in this one to say the least. Good looking foot-work, great use of shot fakes in the interior, and an overall slow-paced flow to him once he gained possession of the ball. We’ve seen a lot of guys debut and not really know where to locate on the offensive end, but Robinson fit right in and attacked. We will need to see more, but a pretty intriguing starter kit when the Heat need an extra push on night’s like this one.

#4: Max Strus deserves another segment of shine, but for a different reason.

When looking at Max Strus in this one, I can have a similar conversation that I have as of late. The shooting will always be there, but the development off the attack continues to impress. He was blowing by the point of attack consistently and finding creases around the basket with scoops and runners from all spots on the floor. But aside from me going on that tangent again, he needs credit for another reason: cardio. Not just because this group was playing high minutes, but combining that with Strus’ role in this one. There’s already an element of this where Strus has to non-stop move in this offense to create shots for both himself and others, but that was taken to new heights in this one. That led into him struggling in the second half with every shot being short, but tonight was unique all in all.

#5: Fourth quarter/OT watch.

Now getting away from the player story-lines, let’s get back to the actual game. Lowry sat for the first time with 1 minute left in the third quarter, which was long overdue, but one thing was clear: the offense would fall off a cliff in the time he sat. He re-entered with 11 minutes to go in the fourth, meaning he sat for 2 minutes, and we saw that flip with an 8 point swing. There’s nobody to emulate what he was providing. But once he came back in, he picked up right where he left off. Big threes, more paint touches on drives, and finding the balance of a settled offense with a faster pace. Eventually, the Heat found themselves in a tie game with 3 and a half minutes left. Haywood Highsmith was putting together a rough offensive night, but his rebounding was one of the keys to the game. I noted it prior, but at that point in the game, he got 2 offensive boards with one being a tip-in to take the lead. After some other necessary plays, he hit an open three to take the lead late, giving Miami real hope. A possession after this, Kyle Lowry went deep in his bag for a fadeaway baseline jumper to extend the lead to 5. Washington bounced back with clutch buckets themselves though, sending the game to OT. Some back and forth continued, with some questionable calls late, and Miami found themselves in an awkward position. Down 1 for a  good portion of time, they couldn’t get over that hump offensively with all shots coming up short: for obvious reasons.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Blazers

The Miami Heat played the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, and they played well for a major portion.

But well, that doesn’t seem to matter.

Late in the game, they fell apart on offense, while going away from the zone defensively.

They let this one slip away. Anyway, here are some of the takeaways…(some leaning into the early stages)

#1: A pull-up 3 point display against Portland’s drop.

The Miami Heat were 10 of 22 from three in the first half tonight, but that on the surface just doesn’t tell the full story. Kyle Lowry, Gabe Vincent, and Duncan Robinson all had 3 a piece, but with the exception of Robinson, almost all of these shots were pull-ups. High pick and roll, dropping Jusuf Nurkic, that’s usually a formula for Tyler Herro to dissect. Yet tonight, Lowry and Vincent picked up in that department, both taking them in transition and the half-court. Miami shooting this well from three-point land is always a good sign of offense and ball movement, which was the case early in this one, but I mainly direct the credit to a nod in the schematic department, as these guys knew coming in: that shot will be sitting there for me.

#2: The 2-3 zone just keeps on pushing forward.

I feel like I land on this topic many nights, and maybe it’s nothing new since it’s becoming one of their base coverages, but I just can’t skip over what we’re seeing there. After most buckets in the second quarter, I was on Erik Spoelstra rotator cuff since he’d abruptly throw up the number 2’s in the air at the unit on the floor, meaning he wanted them to settle into that 2-3 press. The thing about that zone in this match-up is it messes up Portland’s usual gameplan. They’re 29th in 3 point attempts this year, which is essentially what that zone tends to give up. And the threes they’re used to are high PnR pull-ups from both Lillard and Simons. That zone mucked things up for a while there, and guys like Strus and Robinson deserve a ton of credit. We know what Martin and Vincent are doing at the top, but those bottom box guys being in correct positioning allows it not to bend. There is some real comfort in this coverage.

#3 Gabe Vincent deserves some words.

Although I touched on the overall shooting of this group and Vincent being a part of that, the specifics need to be discussed. He’s just been super stable in his role this year, which consistently includes heavy fourth quarter minutes. The way he can wreck havoc on elite guards on the perimeter is a gift in its own, but when he catches a rhythm offensively, he’s a tough player to keep off the floor. The pull-up three was falling, but he’s generating paint touches, feeding to rollers, and playing much slower than his past seasons. Another thing to note is he’s playing in some heavy creation lineups, which means his off-ball control is crucial. And while the spot-up three hasn’t been as elite as you’d want, he has still been a pressure point. Vincent is a back-up point guard right now, but starts are coming with Lowry’s rest days soon to come. And I know many are comfortable in him there, just as he did in the playoffs last year.

#4: We know this Heat team can force turnovers, but they’re turning the page on capitalizing off them.

As I talked about previously with their zone, plus Jimmy Butler’s passing lane masterclass on a nightly basis, it’s pretty obvious that this is a team that can force turnovers even considering being smaller. But the issue so far this year has been scoring off of those turnovers. They’ve never been a team that runs in transition too often, but it’s almost necessary when looking at the lineups they’re running of smaller/quicker guys. In this game, they were moving the ball extremely well in general, but that proved to be the case even more-so in transition to cash in on some easy buckets. If they can try and convert on this consistently, it makes things so much easier in their half-court creation.

#5: Ball movement and taking care of the rock early? Yes. Consistently carrying into late-game? Well, no.

With the ball movement looking as crisp as we’ve seen it tonight against Portland, I already know conversations are brewing surrounding Tyler Herro. Yet while I believe off-ball Herro movement is essential for this group, I’m not a part of that group of thinking. This formula transcends personnel. When this team gets paint touches on-ball, moves a ton off-ball, and takes care of the rock, this will be a familiar result. Turnovers are killer for this group, which always tend to follow heavy ball movement squads. Yet when you have a night to get the best of both worlds, it’s a great development for this team’s offensive trends. The only issue is consistency, which always feels to be the case. While all of that was true for 42 minutes, it stalled in the last 6. Portland fought back as Miami wasn’t generating the same looks. Simply, a major problem. The shot profile can’t be this flip-flopped depending on the time on the clock. While I hit on positives throughout this game, this takeaway of consistency is by far the biggest.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Kings

The Miami Heat won a close one against the Sacramento Kings on the second night of a back to back.

Lets hop right into it.

Here are my takeaways…

#1: Kyle Lowry comes out in a different offensive version.

As the Heat walked onto the court without Jimmy Butler on Wednesday, it was clear they shouldn’t take this scrappy group lightly. They still needed some type of veteran presence to settle this group’s offensive structure, and Kyle Lowry was just that. In the first 15 minutes of basketball, Lowry tied his season high with 17. But the key there was that he looked kind of springy. He was engaged, was getting paint touches consistently, and hitting the necessary pull-ups out of both pick ad rolls, and off some curls. This Kings defense showed early that the middle of the floor would be open, as Lowry read that pretty quickly. Building this type of rhythm is a crucial aspect of this team when Butler returns.

#2: Competent back-up big minutes from Dewayne Dedmon?

The back-up 5 position has been a hot topic when evaluating Heat basketball, and the first name that has generally come up has been Dewayne Dedmon. His minutes haven’t looked great to begin the season on both ends, yet he was looking pretty good early in this one. He kept picking up the phone in that first half, as he celebrated a pair of above the break triples. He also had some strong boards on the interior, made some very nice passes in that mid to high post, and was generally in the right spot. Now, the shot selection is still extremely questionable. You just never seem to know the next shot to come from him on a given possession, but once he finds himself a bit like he did in this one, it’s the perfect innings eater before Bam Adebayo re-enters.

#3: Some extra perspective into Miami’s 2-3 zone.

I’ve talked a lot lately about the Heat’s reliance on the 2-3 zone defensively. It allows them to play two negative defenders at the same time, without having the worry about them being picked on in isolation. It also alters opposing teams’ shot profiles, since they can’t run the same actions that they normally do. But I do have one other thing to add when watching it in the first half against the Kings: when dealing with guard play with quick bursts off the attack, they can muck it up in an instant. As Malik Monk spaced on the right wing, he would attack off the catch and get to the middle of the floor pretty effortlessly. And well, that’s the exact thing you don’t want to happen when in zone. Now it’s a scramble, unnecessary help comes, and an open bucket on a spray. It’s a minor aspect, since the zone has been fantastic for them, but it’s the tweak they will be eyeing.

#4: The Heat’s third quarter offense: the high post/back-cut game-plan.

With the Heat searching for an offensive hub, it seemed like an easy choice for that to be Bam Adebayo consistently in the second half. His mid-range jumper started dropping, which basically forces his defender to stay away from the rim once he enters play-making mode. Well once that occurred, we saw Miami find something that works: it wasn’t a specific set or action, instead it was reading the one-on-one overplays. As Strus inserted the ball into Bam in that high post, his defender was already shedding over on the potential hand-off. Strus reading that, instinctively cut back door with Bam hitting him. Shortly after as Dedmon entered, we saw the same thing yet this time with Herro. High post entry pass, Herro’s defender was playing ahead, and boom another wide open back-cut. That’s how you create the anti-gravity of this Heat offense, so it’s just something to monitor.

#5: Another late-game walk-through.

As it seemed like the Heat stalled mid-way through the fourth quarter, the building got a little bit of energy. A wild Herro tip-in followed by an Adebayo tip-in himself cut the lead to 2 with the team gaining some flow. Speaking of that flow, Herro was the main element of a rhythm finder. Got into his mid-range pull up two possessions in a row for some much needed buckets, tying the game up at 96. Shortly after, the Heat were late on a rotation giving Kevin Huerter a decent look from three, giving the Kings back a 3 point lead. Coming out of the timeout, the Heat had a play in mind: quick DHO to get Bam the ball back in space. He got an easy bucket out of it. Next play, Bam hits Vincent out of the mid-post on a back door cut, like I discussed before. Then to capitalize a run, Lowry gets two feet in the paint, kicks to Herro, who swings to Strus for three. 4 point lead. The Kings came back the next two possessions with a lay-in and a foul on the bonus, tying the game back up at 103 with 50 seconds left. The Heat came back with a Herro-Bam PnR which led to a Herro lay-in, while Mitchell immediately answered back with a lay-in of his own. 32 seconds left, Lowry flows into his favorite turnaround jumper to give Miami a 2 point lead again. Yes, I know. A lot. Now that Kings have the ball, it somehow ends up in the hands of Sabonis at the rim, who gets fouled. 2 for 2. Final possession, ball in the hands of Herro. He gets it in isolation, pump-fakes, leans, game-time. Heat walk away with the win off the clutch bucket.

Kyle Lowry’s Impact in the “Real Season” is Indeed Real

Looking through some of the story-lines of the Miami Heat’s first two playoff games against the Atlanta Hawks, the orderly focus is pretty clear.

At the top of the primary topics, Jimmy Butler sits there coming off his 45 point performance in game two.

Right after that, the role players in general are probably next in line, as Gabe Vincent, Duncan Robinson, and PJ Tucker have all had moments to push Miami in the correct direction.

Rounding out the top 3, I’d have to say that’s where Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro slot in. They haven’t had the greatest games so far, which isn’t a worry right now since they’ve been winning, but there’s attention on that young duo as they progress in this post-season.

That’s a lot of names on one team, and notice how Kyle Lowry’s name wasn’t mentioned once. That’s pretty much how it goes many nights, since he isn’t that flashy scorer or big time box score guy.

If you were to strictly watch the sports shows that come up on national TV, you may have heard adjectives to describe Lowry’s season as “underwhelming.” One might draw that conclusion from not watching the games and simply looking at the 37 year old’s 13 and 8 line on the season, but let me just say, you aren’t watching the games correctly if that’s your takeaway.

One of the main differences between this team and Miami’s recent playoff rosters, aside from better defensive personnel and growth from young guys, is that they have a constant leader on the floor who also plays the point guard position.

Specifically in game one, you could just feel it in the arena that he had complete control over this Heat team, both on the floor and off to the side on the sideline. Yelling, cheering, giving instructions to guys on the floor.

But what has made his impact on the floor so great beyond the numbers?

Well, let’s take a look…

Reads, Reads, and More Reads

When diving into Lowry film at any point in his career, it’s always the simple things that stand out. A simple pass, a simple screen, a simple read.

And speaking of reads, that has been on complete display as they’ve protected home court. We know that he’s one of the smartest point guards in the game, so of course he can do it, but the speed to actually process it has jumped out.

Looking at the play above, Lowry’s mindset is ‘okay, you want to switch late and* go under the screen on me.’ He positions himself behind the screen and fires away. With the scoring threats of Butler and Herro on the floor next to him late in games, these delayed gaps will be there.

We know he recognizes them, but taking advantage is the “real season” development.

Now we swing in the opposite direction, since there’s a bit of an overplay happening here.

Butler tries to make a play off the attack, but the slight collapse leads to a kick-out and retreat. For your own sake, pause the play above as soon as Lowry catches the ball. Trust me.

Strus doesn’t space out, Tucker aligns in the strong-side corner, and Butler sits right on top of all 3 of them. Poor spacing late in the shot clock, so a contested perimeter shot should be the outcome, right?

Wrong.

Lowry notices this as well, so he snakes inside to try and create some movement for the other guys by getting two feet in the paint. As he does this, he finds a gap of his own and uses the rim as his shield to finish with the right hand scoop.

That may be looked at as a normal attack and lay-in, but that’s Lowry’s reads in a nutshell. Creating something out of nothing.

 

Now for the last example of his decision making, it must be said that although he’s one of the league’s best passers, his play off the ball is just as effective, and more importantly, his crisp and timely movements are just as aligned.

On this possession, Herro takes the screen and flows downhill with two shooters spaced on that strong-side. If things don’t go as planned, that could very well be the formula for a crammed possession, but Lowry doesn’t observe, he acts upon it.

Slowly sliding and being linear with the ball is so important, which is something that Delon Wright wasn’t ready for as he got caught ball watching. Herro feeds Lowry which probably could’ve been a corner three, but now he works it inside.

Bogdanovic looks like he’s going to double now, but Lowry waits the extra second for him to retreat to Herro on the perimeter. Puts up the shot and buries it.

Spamming Butler-Lowry PnR’s?

There are certain actions that work better against specific teams. Bam Adebayo as the roller or Tyler Herro as the ball-handler will be very useful vs certain drop bigs, as we’ve seen be highly effective all season with those two.

But at this moment in time, the Lowry-Butler actions are the way to go. Not just because those guys are simultaneously rolling, but due to the fact this match-up allows it.

For example in the clip above, it’s a spaced out PnR for the two at the top of the key. Trae Young wants no part of the Butler switch, so he fights through and Lowry feeds Butler in his spot.

Due to the fact they’re fighting over screens, Butler now gets to play a game of 1-on-1 at the free throw line following the catch, bringing back flashbacks of his week of preparation of 1’s in practice with Udonis Haslem, PJ Tucker, Caleb Martin, and others.

He drives, pump-fakes, and gets the and-1 in effortless fashion.

But that all starts with the recognition of Lowry. Not waiting for Butler to roll all the way down the slot so he can feed, since that would allow corner defenders to collapse. Not taking that extra dribble for an entry post pass to Butler, since that eliminates the action’s momentum.

Just hitting on that short roll for his game to be maximized. We know about their relationship off the floor, but the combo of them on the floor is much greater than full court touchdown passes in transition.

Manipulating the Defense on the Attack

Kyle Lowry as the passer is what most people know him by. But do you know what opens up Kyle Lowry as the passer? The threat of Kyle Lowry as the scorer.

By that I mean his way of putting guys in the correct positions to score is by selling the movement that he has an ability to get a bucket himself.

Looking at some of the plays above, let’s go through them a bit. In the first one, Lowry takes a wide angle on the drive since Bogdanovic does a good job sliding his feet, but in his head he knows the left hand lay-up in traffic isn’t what he’s trying to get to.

He just needs to get as deep into the teeth of the defense as humanly possible, so Danilo Gallinari’s left foot doesn’t leave that left box. Now he kicks, Gallinari tries to recover, and it’s a bucket for Tucker and an added assist for Lowry.

In the next clip, it’s the same thing, except instead of Lowry manipulating the strong-side corner, he’s doing it to the weak-side corner.

Knowing he can get by Young in isolation, he just awaits Bogdanovic to pull all the way down. Gallinari doesn’t split the difference on the shooters, Bogdanovic scrambles, and it’s a Vincent three/another Lowry assist.

Last example, the final clip ties a lot of previous points together. Lowry-Butler empty corner PnR, as Young once again is doing everything in his power not to switch onto Butler. Lowry knowing this bursts down the left side, playing for that help and manipulating the weak-side defenders.

Three collapse, he looks in Strus’ direction to move Huerter away from the corner, like a quarterback moving that safety, and hits Tucker for the corner three.

Everything is calculated with this guy.

You can have fun talking about the game by noting the job Miami’s shooters have done or how “underwhelming” Lowry’s numbers have been, but he’s the reason they’re getting these looks. He’s the reason the offense doesn’t look problematic at the moment, while noting the Hawks defense definitely makes this offense look much smoother in itself.

Mr. Release Valve Locator

Specifically in game one, Miami found the perfect gaps in Atlanta’s defense, which all revolves around perimeter play. They over-play hand-offs or pick and rolls, and guys like Tucker can shift the entire game, which is exactly what he did.

I asked Tucker about being the release valve killer, and the developments that occur schematically on these possessions, which he responded, “Somebody like Bam is rolling and you gotta tag, you get that one second for the three. Or the hand-off with Tyler or Max or Kyle, where you gotta be up for a second then hit the pocket. So it’s just the timing of the helps and passes being on time, and making the next play if somebody steps…Just the progression of plays and making the right play.”

All of that schematic stuff said, it looks much simpler when Tucker is out there physically doing it. Part of it is that it’s muscle memory, and the other part of it is that Lowry just makes things much easier for others.

The first clip above is the perfect example. Quick hand-off from Tucker to Lowry as he was just noting, and it’s another instance of Young being petrified of that switch. With Lowry sinking and pulling them fully away, Tucker smartly pops instead of sitting. An open corner three is the product of that.

The Heat have a ton of release valve guys that include Tucker, Adebayo, or even a smaller guard and shooter like Vincent, but release valve finders are the harder part of this formula. You can create advantages offensively all you want, but if the guy can’t feed those open slots in different scenarios, they’re pointless.

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It should also be noted that Lowry’s defense has elevated heavily over this two game stretch as well. Not only bothering Young around screens or picking his pocket to head in transition, but he’s guarded a bunch of different positions.

The Heat obviously switch everything so he will end up on bigs at times, but they’ve pretty much scoped out the fact that match-up isn’t a loss for Lowry and the Heat. His denial on guys like John Collins and Gallinari has been huge, and let me randomly, and oddly, mention that had 3 blocks in game 2 on Tuesday.

I don’t know what the expectation was of Lowry’s numbers when he mentioned the “real season,” but that comment only made me think of letters. And those letters are W’s.

He’s been huge in Miami’s two wins, and that’s while going 2 for 8 from the field in game two. His stats may not match Butler or Herro or Bam over this run, but his impact will be right there, if not higher.

“His ultimate goal is to win a championship,” Lowry said about Butler on Tuesday, and Lowry’s ultimate goal is to win another.

Mindsets are aligned, but more importantly, this group’s on-court play is aligned which all starts with this team’s point guard, Kyle Lowry.

 

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Hawks in Game 2

The Miami Heat beat the Hawks in game 2 to go up 2-0 in the series, but it wasn’t as simple as the last time around.

Atlanta had a responding punch late in this one, but Miami came right back with one of their own.

All behind Jimmy Butler’s playoff high with 45 points.

Five takeaways from this one…

#1: Jimmy Butler playing his own game, after dominating the free flowing form in game 1.

Coming into this game, the main point I was making was that even though Jimmy Butler played a really complete offensive game on Sunday, it wasn’t his usual half court approach against this type of defense. By that, I mean he should be attacking weaker guards like Trae Young, or smaller bodies in general, down low in the post off switches. And well, we saw that more and more in this one. But more specifically, he was abusing the pump-fake down low to create advantages, and man were they biting on them every time. He even mixed in a few early triples, and the blueprint of each were completely different. A stand-still flat-footed one on the left wing, then a pull-up on the right wing much later where he rose up over the top completely. But that’s just Butler.

#2: Smaller lineups continues to be the trend here.

As talked about in game 1, the Heat went the Gabe Vincent route and it payed off. But zooming out from just Vincent specifically, it’s forced their lineups to downsize consequently. We saw a ton of Lowry-Vincent together, which works since the Hawks ran a ton of Wright-Young, but now it’s Tyler Herro sliding down to the 3. It worked really well for certain stretches, since the key to it is not being oversized on switches on the other end, which they weren’t. They don’t have any players to worry about in that state, other than maybe Danilo Gallinari. We should continue to see this throughout the series, as the Butler at the 4 has continued heavily. And speaking of small ball, after Bam picked up his fourth foul to begin the second half, Miami went small in the front-court with Caleb Martin slotting in. That sparked a run at that time, as Butler began to heat up even more.

#3: Keep an eye on the free throw trend.

The Heat got some of the Hawks’ perimeter guys in foul trouble early, including 3 fouls for both Huerter and Bogdanovic in that first half. In that span, they also shot 19 free throws, which pretty much doubled Atlanta’s number. A lot of that refers back to my first takeaway with Butler and his pump-fake, but the entire team was putting some pressure on the defense in that way as they increased their competitiveness on that end from game 1. The reason I say to keep an eye on it, and not to fully focus on it, is due to the fact there’s a certain team in their bracket that has been on a free throw frenzy. Joel Embiid, James Harden, and the Philadelphia 76ers could be up next, not to look too far ahead, and Miami semi-matching them at times would be interesting.

#4: I hate to use a cliche, but this team is just tougher than you.

I know I usually spend most of my time diving into specifics, but a game like this presents something pretty obvious: this team won’t back down. Whether if it’s the first 5 minutes of game 1 with Butler going at it with Young, Kyle Lowry getting a double tech in game 2, Max Strus going right back at John Collins in the third, Tyler Herro jawing at Young after he pushed Vincent, and much more antics, this team is just ready for the response to any jab that is thrown their way. Once again, yes it sounds cliche to be raving about toughness, but that’s what this group is based off of. Taking charges, being physical, and diving on the floor for every loose ball is what makes every game in a 7 game series hard to play against this group of guys. Which is also why the dynamic of 76ers-Heat would be so intriguing.

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#5: Dewayne Dedmon deserves some love.

On a night full of Jimmy Butler dominance, there were some mixed in performances worthy of noting. Herro began to find himself for stretches, Martin provided a nice boost, Strus did his thing on both ends. But the Heat’s physical back-up big needs to be discussed. His energy was shown in this one for sure, but he also cleaned things up around the rim well and had promising flashes for extended time with Adebayo in foul trouble. The reason I bring this up is that this ideally wasn’t his series. No Capela, Hawks go small, and he’s still out there keeping up with the crew. I know I keep foreshadowing to a potential second round matchup with Philly, but that’s his series. That’s when he will be needed most, and this type of consistency would be big.

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Hawks in Game One

The Heat kicked off game 1 of the playoffs against the Hawks with a bang. High level offense, suffocating defense against Trae Young, and overall productive play 1 through 9.

So, here are some game 1 takeaways, which is hard to limit to 5…

#1: The rotation move with Gabe Vincent, clearly a timely one.

When looking into the Heat’s rotation, it has been a topic all season. Who would be the odd man out? Gabe Vincent? Caleb Martin? Duncan Robinson? And well, the answer to that question in game one was Martin. While I felt like Martin could be useful in the defensive planning of Trae Young, they saw more value in that extra ball handler who has shown can bother smaller guards. He continued to get into the grill of Young, bothering him to a 1 of 9 first half. The last play of the first quarter summed it up, as he doubled Young off pure instinct, leading to a chucked up three on the right wing. Plus he gave them two timely threes on the other end in that first half. The halftime takeaway: his impact was big.

#2: Duncan Robinson or Max Strus?

Max Strus may have stepped into Duncan Robinson’s starting spot, but that didn’t mean that pushed Robinson out all the way. Strus was still entering his first career playoff game, and we saw a minutes shift in that first half. Robinson at 15, Strus at 9. But it wasn’t about the 3 triples that stood out about Robinson early. After the second three, a run was building. The ball found him on the right wing, he gave a strong pump-fake, drove down the lane and got up in the air. He found Butler on the left wing, hit him, who swung it to Lowry for the corner three. The crowd went crazy, and at that very moment, you could see that was a confidence season high for Robinson. Having a shooting threat to this degree of the bench is absolutely major, and he can swing games depending on the match-up. This is one of them.

#3: Kyle Lowry: the calming hand.

There is a lot that can be taken away from this game, but Kyle Lowry’s overall control and leadership was evident. It’s not just the cliche stuff you hear people say all the time, but his fingerprints were on everything early on. Getting the crowd involved, hitting big shots, feeding confidence into others by being in their ear. That is the difference maker between this team and past ones. We know what Butler is. He’s the top threat who can get things chippy as he did with Young to start the game. But Lowry is the calming force who can keep everyone in check both on and off the floor. Veteran leadership shouldn’t be overlooked, and having that at point guard is showing to be a different beast in the playoffs.

#4: Defense, defense, defense.

When I say that Young shot 1 of 9 from the field in the first half, that doesn’t even do it justice. They were on him, with a fluctuating group of Vincent, Lowry, Butler, Tucker, and Adebayo all taking turns. Sending doubles, staying home on shooters, and allowing the guys within the action to handle Young, which worked out well. But Bam Adebayo individually deserves some love, since he was straight up covering major ground possession after possession. One play in the second quarter consisted of Young driving down the lane, Adebayo trailing, and him stealing it right out of his hands like he was taking his lunch money. Clearly, this team can ruin people’s days defensively, and even more-so when the focus is on one individual guy.

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#5: Back to the usual PJ Tucker experience.

We already knew PJ Tucker would be one of those highly useful deep playoff run guys, since his defense is super valuable, plus we’ve seen the corner shooting come up big late in games in the past. And well, we got a look at that in the third quarter tonight. 3 triples from the exact same spot to begin the quarter, and you guessed it: from the corner. But his flashes of impact as a roller struck once again. Nobody’s sticking with a Tucker pop or roll most possessions, since the goal is to send two at the shooter on the opposite end of the screen. Yet, that floater from earlier in the year becomes more and more useful. He’s going to have gaps like that against every team, and him taking advantage could swing a series. He’s a safety valve for the guards, and a pretty good one at that.

 

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Raptors

The Heat didn’t seem to be in a great spot early on against the Toronto Raptors, yet fought back with an impressive win behind a bunch of guys.

Tyler Herro played a complete game, Max Strus provided the spark, and Victor Oladipo came up huge.

So, here are some takeaways from this one…

#1: Heat having trouble stopping this lengthy, quick Raptors team early on.

While the offensive end is always looked to first, it was clear that Miami’s defense had to be the focus when reflecting at the half. For one, Fred VanVleet was just able to go to work possession after possession, going for 17 first quarter points to kick off the game. But the true issue is those surrounding VanVleet. We talk about this Raptors team’s length being a defensive thing, but they provide hard things to defend on the opposite side of things. They love to run a single PnR to draw that smaller defender, then go full clear-out mode. Guys like Barnes or Siakam were able to get decent looks in that mid post area, which leads to Miami’s weak-side wing defenders edging down. Now that slight double comes, and the kick-out is made. Their offense was simple, but when they’re shooting at that level over a certain stretch, it looks much more complex.

#2: Tyler Herro’s counter to so many different coverages is a unique approach.

Evaluating Tyler Herro against a team like the Raptors is a good benchmark in terms of tracking his individual success. As I’ve mentioned all year, length is one of the best counters to his high level offensive display. But when there’s quick and switchy length, it makes it even tougher. You can’t effectively drive to the basket with them lurking, but they also play high in the PnR since they can switch basically everything. So, what’s Herro’s move from there? Well, it isn’t a schematic shift that is made. It’s simply tough shot making. Time and time again, that’s his relying force as a scorer. Weaving in that mid-range, taking tough step-backs, or working that transition pull-up 3 due to the fact it’s the only shot that won’t see a contest. We know everything Herro provides, but being able to have that elite level tough shot making label is impressive.

#3: Victor Oladipo minutes, Victor Oladipo production?

With Miami lacking Jimmy Butler, PJ Tucker, Gabe Vincent, and Dewayne Dedmon, plenty of slots were opened in the Heat rotation which includes Victor Oladipo. His early offensive success was that release valve three, as many of his minutes came next to Herro and one of Bam or Lowry. But more specifically with Herro, the Raptors were making sure to send two at him no matter the circumstance. That meant open looks were presenting themselves for Oladipo, which he took advantage of in his first stint. We know he can have moments, but the common question is if he can have consistent moments. Yes he can knock down wild step back triples through pure skill, but we’ve also seen that turnovers have been linked to him at times by rushing on-ball creation a ton. That comes with the fact that he hasn’t played many basketball games due to injury recently, but that would be the ability that’d push him into comfortable rotation status. But with the big time shot making displayed tonight, he’s inching closer and closer to that state.

#4: Max Strus: the ignitable piece.

As Miami seemed a step behind entering the second half offensively, it was clear there were only certain players who could push them into winning position: Max Strus or Duncan Robinson. The common denominator there was that they needed one of their primary shooters, who had yet to make a three, to bend the defense a bit on the perimeter. And well, that guy was Strus. After not attempting a shot in the first half, he exploded in the third quarter for 14 points and 4 triples, which helped Miami basically get over the hump. It’s not about Strus’ 14 in itself exactly, but it’s what those shots open up. The move to put him in the starting lineup felt like a placeholder, but it’s feeling more and more like a sticking point. As Spoelstra always says, it’s his ignitability that makes him so special, and when a guy has the potential to win you a playoff game, you go with that player.

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#5: Scrapping their way into one of their grittier wins of the season.

In terms of big time gritty wins this season for the Heat, this game is up there. Their offense was flattened out, Lowry mentioned his emotions would be everywhere, and Toronto’s size was causing problems. Yet, they battled through. I talked about both Herro and Strus previously, but there needs to be context of them together, specifically in the 4th. Strus kept getting more looks and kept capitalizing, but it’s not crazy to say that Herro was the reason. He continued driving and attacking, meaning Toronto kept sending bodies at him and helping down. Therefore, Strus took advantage. The other guy I already touched on who took advantage late was Oladipo. A big dunk got the team into it, and one deep three put Miami over the top. What felt like a statement game from Lowry turned into a statement game from Oladipo, leading to some interesting conversations late in the season.

 

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over the Celtics

The Heat played a big one on Wednesday night against the Celtics in Boston, and they stood strong in many of the weaknesses they had attached to them.

Max Strus came up huge after shaky moments, Kyle Lowry took over, and the Heat stepped up big in clutch time.

So, here are some takeaways from this one…

#1: Tyler Herro and Miami making adjustments to start.

As Miami walked into the locker room at halftime, it was clear a 1 point lead was a win for them. A second quarter run from Boston raised an eyebrow at Miami potentially bouncing back, but the adjustments for Tyler Herro were interesting to me in general. There’s still much less comfort against switching than drop, but lucky for him, it’s a pick your poison thing with this impressive Celtics defense. Herro was being swarmed a ton in his early minutes, mostly since he was running into easy switches with guys like Jimmy Butler or PJ Tucker screening. Simply, he needs Bam Adebayo to set him up. The reasoning was that he needed to gain a rhythm by going at Al Horford in that drop. He did climb up to 10 points at the half, and it leads to a takeaway that Spoelstra seems to feel most comfortable shifting Herro around offensively than anybody.

#2: The broad idea of pace fluctuations.

Speaking of that Boston run in the second quarter, it looked like Miami was rattled for a minute. Turnovers were peaking, they began to play faster as Boston had transition success, and the lead began to swing. Aside from this game in itself, I truly believe it’s something to keep an eye on. Why? Well, the person that controls the pace in a game that the Miami Heat are involved seems to be a bigger swing than it should be. When Miami starts trailing the play-style of the opponent, things don’t lean in their favor. It doesn’t matter if it’s that they need to slow it down or speed it up in a certain span, but just having that control is an important element of this basketball team.

#3: Bam Adebayo’s defensive importance: something you know already.

While many were probably screaming at their TV at times in the first half for Bam Adebayo to begin attacking Boston’s bigs, it must be reminded that there are two sides of the ball. And for a portion of the game, Adebayo was wrecking first options for the Celtics very often. Many times we see it through Miami’s game-plan of forcing Tucker and Adebayo to switch onto the respective guard and big on that team, but they went the Giannis Antetokounmpo route in this one. What I mean by that is he shifted to weak-side excellence in this one, and his help was pretty elite for what he had to deal with on the other side, in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. You may hear a lot about Smart and Williams on the ESPN broadcast for defensive player of the year, but the ability to move Bam around defensively will be Spoelstra’s key defensive card in the playoffs.

#4: Kyle Lowry’s “real season” coming alive?

When zooming in on the third quarter specifically, Kyle Lowry was the definition of their offense from start to finish. He kicked off with two pull-up triples out of the high pick and roll, which is one of the most important elements of this team. Yes, not just Lowry, but this team. Defenses worrying about that shot gives Lowry all of his powers to dissect coverages in the half-court with his passing. That led to an immediate zip to Bam Adebayo in the middle of the floor, and a perfect feed on a backdoor cut to Jimmy Butler to begin the 3rd. The one question that I had walking away from that quarter was this: what happens when Lowry exits? That’s how big he was in terms of total control, which ties into recent discussions about spacing. It’s clear that when the playoffs roll around, Lowry needs the ball in his hands. A lot.

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#5: Late-game offense evaluation time.

When heading into this game, I said on a Five Reasons Sports pregame show that the topic of the game would be late-game offense. For one it’s just that type of match-up, and second of all, there are two high level shot creators to create in clutch time during the Heat’s biggest time of weakness. As the score stayed close and the time trickled down, we saw Miami staying in base sets for a decent amount of time starting at the 6 minute mark. As Lowry checked back in the 4th, it was clear that the clutch time offense starts now in a game like this. But more importantly, the base sets were familiar since there was space to operate, as Butler stayed at the 4. Miami continued to spam one thing and one thing only: Lowry/Bam PnR, Strus/Herro spacing in each corner, Butler looming. That’s the formula to good looks in the clutch.

 

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