The Miami Heat have a new up-tempo offense, and as LeBron James taught the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, it is absolutely devastating. Also in The Hook: Stephen Curry's ankle threatens to ruin the Warriors' season.
At no point in the 2010-11 season did the Miami Heat look like that. The Heat had mammoth wins, brilliant performances, artful offensive assaults in the debut season of the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh triptych, but never did the Heat so thoroughly ruin a great team on the road on such a bright stage. The closest match is the Heat's Christmas 2010 win over the Lakers in Los Angeles; that game was most notable for Chris Bosh crushing L.A.'s frontline.
This was different. This was a full-court assault by the Heat's superior athletes that refused to allow the older, more craft than splash Dallas Mavericks to breathe. With Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion, the Mavericks never exactly look young. But they looked like a club you'd find at the Coral Gables YMCA against the new racing Heat. Any questions about whether the preseason talk about the Heat's new up-tempo offense was just hype were excused for now. It's real, and it made the Mavericks look awful.
Tom Haberstroh wrote a detailed analysis on the creation and early evolution of the Heat's new offense last week. Erik Spoelstra, the Heat's young and curious coach, visited Eugene, Oreg., to watch Chip Kelly's Oregon Ducks work through their infamous spread offense. Spoelstra and his staff began translating it for basketball, focusing on using space and speed to create opportunities and mismatches. IT WORKED. The Heat played an up-tempo game -- each team had 100 possessions; in 2010-11, the Heat averaged 90 per game and the Mavericks were at 91. They attacked the rim, which made the selection on the team's long shots look a lot better.
The Heat scored 31 points on the break and 44 points in the paint. Add in the team's 25 made free throws (15 of them from LeBron) and 69 of the Heat's 105 points were scored at the rim or at the stripe, where free throws usually come on interior plays. That's simply terrifying: the Heat look to be abandoning their long-jumper identity -- one in which transition played a useful role but came too infrequently -- in favor of something like an eternal invasion. They never stopped coming at the Mavs, not until they were up by 35 and called it a night.
The Heat have another down-tempo test on Tuesday: the Boston Celtics. We know Miami can bludgeon Boston in the half-court -- we saw in the playoffs last season. But if the Heat can do to the Celtics' still-stout defense what they did to the Mavericks, the NBA is in real trouble.
WARRIORS ON THE BRINK
The Golden State Warriors are in a terrible position. Stephen Curry, the third-year guard, is the team's best player and best hope for a win any given night. Monta Ellis is a great scorer and a good passer, but Curry's superior efficiency and court vision make him a much more valuable player. Curry, however, is injured. He turned an ankle on a Jimmer Fredette crossover on Tuesday, was considered a toss-up leading up to the Warriors' Sunday night opener against the L.A. Clippers, and eventually played. He was awful. Chris Paul is a damned good defender, but he's not "hold Steph Curry to 4-12 shooting with five turnovers" good. No one is.
The Warriors have to sit Curry to save their season, and sitting Curry could ruin their season. Both truths seem completely obvious right now, and only the good fortune of fast healing or a true joint renaissance for David Lee and Andris Biedrins can make either wrong. If Curry limps through a few weeks of action, this ankle injury could bug him all season long. The Warriors can't afford a sub-optimal Curry. But if Golden State lets him heal for a few weeks, they could legitimately be a half-dozen games out of a playoff spot by the time he returns. Mark Jackson and the front office have all but branded a playoff bid as an expectation for this club. Given the state of the roster -- this team might have the worst bench in the NBA, even worse than the L.A. Lakers or Memphis Grizzlies -- that was a longshot as soon as the goal was created. But hobble Curry, and it's over.
Coaches don't tend to fare well when expectations aren't met, but Jackson put himself in a bad spot by writing a check his team probably can't cash. The coach seems to be tight with the front office, and no one thinks Joe Lacob will give two straight coaches one-and-out tenures. (Keith Smart coached the team last season and was fired to make way for Jackson. Smart had presided over a 10-win improvement.) But this is a bad situation to start Jackson's coaching career, and unless Curry heals quickly, the season's on the fast track to the lottery in Oakland.
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