There They Are
In their sound beating of the New Orleans Hornets, the Heat defense reappeared after a recent stretch of disappointing play on that end of the court. This was the first game Miami’s defense allowed scoring at less than a rate of 99 points per 100 possessions since their November 17th game against Phoenix. Not so coincidentally, Shane Battier was out for most of that time and the Hornets game was his return to major minutes for the Heat. Defensive specialist Joel Anthony also played significant minutes for only the second time this year in this game. It looks like Coach Spoelstra is making lineup changes to remedy the defensive issues Miami has faced all season.
A Surprisingly Meaningful Matchup
Literally hundreds of Hawks fans rejoiced when Joe Johnson and the remainder of his 6 year, 120 million dollar contract were shipped to Brooklyn, even if it meant losing a perennial All Star. The expectation was that, though they would struggle in his absence, the team would be better off in the long run with the financial flexibility brought by the blockbuster mildly interesting trade.
Oddly, the team has actually performed better in his absence as the Hawks are only half a game behind the Heat with a 12-5 record. Defense is fueling this hot start, as Atlanta has a sixth ranked defensive efficiency of 100.8. The Heat’s high octane offense (third ranked 111.3 points per 100 possessions) may be challenged against this stingy defensive squad.
The deliverer of one of the all-time great post game interviews and everyone’s favorite Georgian, Zaza Pachulia has been one of the key players in Atlanta’s defensive performance. The Hawks allow scoring at a rate of 97.9 points per 100 possessions while he’s on the court, but 104.0 points per 100 possessions while he’s on the bench. This is the biggest difference for any player on this team that plays this many minutes. Ivan Johnson is also essential. When the former D-Leaguer is featured in Hawks lineups, opponents score only 93.2 points per 100 possessions.
Josh Smith is one of the most entertaining players in the NBA to watch. By my unofficial count, only JaVale McGee has a higher percentage of plays that are either spectacular highlights or terrible decisions. The latter category consists mostly of jump shots – an area in which Josh Smith performs quite poorly. Per Basketball-Reference.com, Smith shoots a horrific 25.8% on shots ranging from beyond 10 feet but inside the 3 point line. This would not be a big problem if he only took this shot when it was absolutely necessary, but 36% of his shots come in this range. If Smith settles for jumpers, as he usually does, it will be to Miami’s advantage.