Heat vs. Bulls adjustments: LeBron James can't win alone

Chris Trotman

The Bulls opened up their playoff series against the Heat with a win in Miami. The Heat shot under 40 percent on the night and relied on LeBron James to break through a defensive scheme crafted to slow him down. That must change for Miami going forward.

After sweeping the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, the Miami Heat are now down 0-1 to the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals. While LeBron James played well, the rest of Miami's roster did not, even though the Bulls left them open. That has to change in Game 2.

Like it did with the Brooklyn Nets' offensive weapons, Chicago's defense devoted most of its attention to the newly-crowned Most Valuable Player. James finished with 27 points while shooting 8-of-17 from the field in Game 1, but his near-triple-double amounted to a loss. The Heat shot 39 percent from the field and made only seven 3-pointers. Dwyane Wade finished with 14 points while Chris Bosh was 3-for-10 from the field for nine points. The Heat had to rely on James to take on the Bulls' machine-like defense, and while he did well on an individual level, that's not how Miami wins.

Chicago's defense rotates on the basketball court with fluidity and a purpose. They have an identity, and against the Heat, it will be to slow down James with extra defenders.


Joakim Noah is the heart of the Bulls' defense. He was great at keeping James' position in his vision while moving with his man and rotating to help when necessary. Noah was keeping track of him even when James was walking the ball up the court.

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James drives by Jimmy Butler, but Noah is still watching while in the low-post with Chris Andersen.

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Noah rotates as soon as James' dribble penetration begins. While Andersen is alone, he's also on the perimeter, where he isn't a threat.

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Noah falls back and defends the layup attempt, forcing a missed field goal. Even if James gets through his primary defender, he still has to break down the remaining help from the Bulls. When his teammates aren't able to score, these are the types of contested shots James will have to take.

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When the Heat have Andersen on the floor, it does shrink their floor spacing, but the Bulls are sending extra defenders at James even when the paint is clear. Here, Nate Robinson is going to sink into the paint when James isolates Butler in the post.

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Robinson is already prepared to help even before James touches the ball.

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James seals Butler and has a lane to the basket with a good pass, but Robinson's presence is enough to give Butler time to recover and block the shot.

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***

With the amount of attention the Bulls are putting on slowing down James, the Heat will have to take advantage of a sometimes-overactive defense, like they do here with a pick and roll between James and Bosh.

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James takes the screen and the Bulls switch. Noah steps up to the perimeter to challenge him, one of two mismatches created.

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The other is in the low post between Butler and Bosh. This is a dangerous play for the Bulls and an opportunity the Heat will have to exploit every time.

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James passes the ball to Bosh and Noah runs back towards the paint to help, but Carlos Boozer is already in the position Noah is trying to cover. Unless the Bulls are planning a sudden switch between Noah and Butler, this is a poor defensive decision. Not only did the Heat exploit a mismatch in the post, but now Noah has given James space on the perimeter.

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Bosh passes out to James and the league MVP hits the 3-point shot.

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While Noah is the anchor of the Bulls' defense, the Heat can eventually find an opening if they keep him moving. That way, he can't key on James as easily.

The presence of Shane Battier also helps. Battier played only 18 minutes in Game 1, a curious decision because his ability to shoot from the perimeter stretches the defense. This makes it more difficult for Noah and the other Bulls big men to roam and track James.

On this play, the threat of Battier in the corner prevents Taj Gibson from rotating on the eventual pic-and-roll run by James and Mario Chalmers.

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What was normally Gibson's rotation is now Noah's, and he's too high on the floor to make it. Gibson was much closer to rotate and help, but does not because he's trying to deny an open three for Battier.

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If the Heat continue spreading Noah thin, there will be opportunities for James to score at the rim. It's not easy, though, because Noah is an excellent help defender.

Consider his work on this possession. Down four with 37 seconds to go, the Heat were still in position to win. James drives off a Bosh screen that should give James space to shoot quickly.

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But Noah does a great job helping on the play. He first moves over the top of Butler, then shifts back into the middle and challenges the shot. Even with a well-executed play, James' shot wasn't close because of Noah's efforts.

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Another option: pick on Boozer when he's Butler's help defender.

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***

The series is far from over, and the Heat's uncharacteristically-low shooting percentage should even out. But Tom Thibodeau's defensive schemes are healthy as ever, even though the Bulls themselves are banged-up. The Heat need the rest of their players to impact the game and distract the Bulls' defenders, because relying on James alone to create offense has already proven to be a losing effort once.

More from SB Nation:

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