The Miami HEAT face the Detroit Pistons Sunday afternoon at Little Caesars Arena. The HEAT defeated the Pistons 97-96 in their last meeting on Mar. 28. Tip-off is set for 4:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 3:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What did the HEAT do so well to earn a road win at Utah?
Couper Moorhead: The obvious answer is that they defended about as well as you can defend in this modern age of supercharged offense. Utah is not an elite offensive team, to say the least, so take this with a grain of salt, but when Goran Dragić and Dion Waiters were on the floor the team had a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 51.8. The best single-game defensive rating since 1984 was the HEAT back in 1999 holding the Bulls to 52.5 points per 100. In other words, for 28 minutes with their starting backcourt on Friday, the HEAT played the best statistical defense in about 35 years.
But what the HEAT did better than Utah – they played a pretty fine defensive game themselves – was make more shots in the final minutes. Close, physical games like this often come down to a stretch of a couple minutes when one player gets hot, and Friday it was Dion Waiters scoring in the final minutes – including an incredible tough, leaning three with a short shot clock – while Utah came up cold. Those were the types of games Miami had trouble winning at times last season and even though you can’t always rely on tough, contested jumpers to be the difference, Waiters’ ability to simply get those shots up is a valuable skill to the team.
Joe Beguiristain: The HEAT defended at an elite level in the second half, as they held the Jazz to 4-of-33 shooting after halftime. 4-of-33. That’s 12.1 percent. While some of those were good looks that just didn’t go in, Miami had a hand in shaking Utah’s confidence.
Speaking of confidence, Dion Waiters took over in the fourth quarter with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting. In addition to knocking down some tough 3-pointers, Waiters also made a key pass to Josh Richardson for an open three with 1:27 left. It’s that kind of fearless demeanor that makes the difference in a defensive slugfest like Friday night.
Waiters’ fantastic fourth quarter performance was just another example of him getting the job done in “Philly Cheese Time”. In fact, the 25-year-old is shooting 11-of-17 (64.7 percent) in the clutch this season (last five minutes of a game within five points). That’s impressive.
2: With Detroit second in the Eastern Conference in wins, what are they doing so differently this year?
Couper: They’re scoring. Detroit was a good defensive team last year and they are again this season under Stan Van Gundy, but they’ve shifted some of their offensive focus en route to a Top 10 attack thus far. And a good portion of that comes from how they’re using Andre Drummond (hitting his free-throws better so far) differently. Van Gundy’s teams have been known for their spread pick-and-roll system ever since the Dwight Howard days in Orlando, and with Drummond Detroit has been trying to replicate that success. This year, possibly because so much of the league runs the same spread offense and thus teams are better prepared to stop it, they’ve reduced the number of used pick-and-rolls by about 14 per 100 possessions and nearly every one of those possessions has become a handoff play. Couple that with Drummond using fewer post-ups this season, never a particular strength of his, and Detroit has been a more dynamic, efficient offense without altering much of their roster beyond Avery Bradley (who is very good and an underrated acquisition last offseason).
Getting healthy helps a ton, too, given that Reggie Jackson dealt with injuries for much of last season.
Joe: As Coup stated above, Detroit has improved a great deal on the offensive end. In particular, Andre Drummond has stepped up his game and has been way more efficient than he was a year ago. For starters, he’s no longer a liability at the charity stripe, as he’s shooting 64.2 percent on 4.4 attempts per game at the line. You may think that’s still pretty low, but keep in mind that he shot 38.6 percent on those shots last season. Additionally, Drummond has tallied at least 12 rebounds in every game thus far, with a good chunk of those coming on the offensive end. Like Hassan Whiteside, Drummond gives his team a bunch of second-chance opportunities and reduces the number of empty possessions.
Whenever you talk about Drummond, you also have to mention Reggie Jackson. The 27-year-old point guard has continued to be solid in the pick-and-roll, as he’s averaging 1.04 points per possession as the PNR ball handler and shooting 51.7 percent on those looks.
When you factor the duo in with Tobias Harris, who leads the team with 19.7 points per game on 49.3 percent shooting from deep, you start to understand why the Pistons are 9-3.
3: Where might Miami be able to best attack Detroit’s defense?
Couper: Detroit’s defensive profile is remarkably similar to that of Miami in allowing few corner threes and even fewer threes above the break. Detroit even allows fewer attempts at the rim per game. This is a team that’s smart about where they want their opponents to be shooting. But like Miami, due to the nature of having big men play back in the pick-and-roll, Detroit will still allow attack into the upper reaches of the paint before the ball reaches the rim. So while the HEAT will still want to get their drive-and-kick attacks, it’s likely that the Pistons will attempt to shut down those passing lanes and contain the ball with two defenders in the middle of the floor. That means, for attackers like Goran Dragić, Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, James Johnson and Justise Winslow (the HEAT have a lot of attackers), how they’re able to score from the 12-foot, floaters and pull-ups range might be the deciding factor in this one.
Joe: While Detroit is one of the better all-around defensive teams in the league, Miami should still have success when driving to the basket. In fact, the Pistons are allowing 1.01 points per direct drive, which ranks them towards the bottom in that category. For comparison’s sake, the HEAT are No. 1 in that metric, allowing just 0.87 points per direct drive.
This kind of relates to what Coup stated above about Miami being able to take advantage with its bevy of attackers. Although Detroit doesn’t give up much at the rim, the HEAT can still do some damage off the dribble in the paint.
Mar. 28 – HEAT at Pistons
Jan. 28 – Pistons at HEAT
- The HEAT have won three of their last four and enter the contest at 6-6.
- The Pistons have won four in a row and are 9-3 on the season.
- Dion Waiters is shooting 11-of-17 (64.7 percent) in the clutch this season (last five minutes of a game within five points).
- Tobias Harris leads Detroit in points (19.7) and three-point percentage (49.3 percent).
- HEAT Offense: 100.2 (25)
- HEAT Defense: 101.7 (8)
- Pistons Offense: 106.8 (9)
- Pistons Defense: 102.3 (12)