The Miami Heat is in the zone — literally.
The Heat hasn’t played as much zone defense as it did last regular season, when it set a new modern-day NBA record for most zone possessions played in a single season. But the zone has been a big part of the Heat’s winning formula in each of the last two games on the heels of its first seven-game losing streak since 2008.
The Heat allowed just 0.73 points per possession on 37 zone half-court defensive possessions in Wednesday’s home win over the Sacramento Kings to snap its seven-game skid, compared to 1.04 points per possession on 48 man-to-man half-court defensive possessions.
The Heat again turned to its press-zone defense for a large chunk of the second half in Friday’s 110-102 road win over the Washington Wizards, rallying from a three-point halftime deficit to earn a second straight victory.
After using its zone defense for just four half-court defensive possessions in Friday’s first half, the Heat went to zone for 24 possessions in the second half. The Heat held the Wizards to just 0.68 points per possession while in its zone defense, compared to 1.02 points per possession while using its man scheme during the win.
“The goal is just to get people out of their ordinary NBA offense,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said of the zone. “You got to run something else for the zone. It bothered [the Wizards] today. It worked for us and we’re going to keep running it.”
After Washington shot 8 of 23 (34.8 percent) on threes in the first half, the Heat’s zone helped to limit the Wizards to 3-of-19 (15.8 percent) shooting from three-point range in the second half on Friday. The zone, which focused on protecting the rim and minimizing clean three-point opportunities while speeding things up with its full-court press element, forced the Wizards to take 17 non-rim two-point shots (13 non-rim paint shots and four non-paint twos) in the second half.
“It takes them out of their normal offensive sets,” Heat guard Tyler Herro said. “They were getting in a little bit of a rhythm during the first half. I think the zone forces them to take shots that we want them to take, which is those non-paint twos and long twos. I think once we started to funnel them into our zone, they really started to struggle on the offensive end and our lead started to increase.”
Pulling out the zone for extended stretches against a struggling Wizards team that holds the NBA’s 25th-ranked offensive rating is one thing.
But using it in Sunday’s matchup against the talented Los Angeles Clippers at Kaseya Center would be a different challenge. Led by Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and James Harden, the Clippers own the league’s fourth-ranked offensive rating and have won 24 of their last 29 games following an 8-10 start to the season.
““It will differ game to game where we need to adjust our schemes,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s really about the activity level, making it tough on other teams, getting them out of their comfort zone.”
HERRO’S MILESTONE NIGHT
With Herro’s second made three in Friday’s win over the Wizards, he became the second-fastest player in Heat history to make his 700th career NBA three-pointer. Herro did it in his 272nd regular-season NBA game.
The only Heat player who reached that mark faster than Herro is Duncan Robinson, who made his 700th career NBA three in an NBA-record 216 regular-season games. Robinson also set the league record for the fewest regular-season games needed to reach 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 800 and 900 made threes.
Herro is just the fifth player in franchise history to make 700 threes in a Heat uniform, joining a list that also includes Robinson, Tim Hardaway, Eddie Jones and Glen Rice.
“It feels good. I just want to continue to take second to Duncan,” Herro said with a grin. “I just got to keep shooting my threes and being confident.”
TOUGH STRETCH AHEAD
Beginning with Sunday’s matchup against the Clippers, the Heat has six games left to play before the All-Star break and most of them will be challenging.
Five of the Heat’s next six games leading into the break come against winning teams.
Following a four-game homestand that includes matchups against the Clippers on Sunday, Orlando Magic on Tuesday, San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday and Boston Celtics on Feb. 11, the Heat hits the road for a tough back-to-back set against the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 13 and Philadelphia 76ers on Feb. 14.
“I know our guys are looking forward to the competition,” Spoelstra said. “The Clippers, I think, are the hottest team in the league right now. It’s in our house. We had some decent stretches in L.A., but then they really took control in that second half. It’s better to be facing them with a little bit of momentum going into it. Our guys are competitors, so it should be a fun night.”
The Heat fell to the Clippers 121-104 in Los Angeles on Jan. 1 in the teams’ first meeting of the season.
This story was originally published February 3, 2024, 12:58 PM.
First appeared on www.miamiherald.com