Heat measuring up defensively, join impressive group of league’s top teams in one category

 

Miami’s guard Josh Richardson and guard Wayne Ellington go up against Chicago’s Bobby Portis during the Heat’s victory Thursday. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

MIAMI – With all the talk about the Heat picking up the pace since the All-Star break, don’t forget about another aspect of Miami’s game, one that surely pleases coach Erik Spoelstra more than anything.

The Heat are getting defensive.

Miami limited the Bulls to 36.7 percent from the floor during Thursday’s 103-92 victory, the second consecutive game the Heat have held an opponent below 40 percent – Cleveland shot 36.5 percent Tuesday – and the 15th time this season, tying Boston, Philadelphia, Portland and Utah for the stingiest defensive efforts.

“You look at the top teams in this league, we’ve held the majority of them under 40 percent and under 100 points,” coach Erik Spoelstra said “The challenge is to do it against a team like this that’s not in a playoff race and to be able to try and do it two games in a row.”

The Heat have held four of the top six teams to under 100 points and 40 percent shooting in a game. They have done it once each against Golden State, Boston and Toronto and twice against Cleveland. Houston and Portland are the exceptions.

Spoelstra, whose teams held opponents under 40 percent shooting 12 times last season, was impressed with Thursday’s effort coming just two days after an emotional victory over the Cavaliers, a game played with a playoff feel. This despite the Bulls owning the league’s worst field goal percentage of .435.

“You can certainly make a case coming off the passionate, emotional, enthusiastic game that we had against Cleveland (Tuesday), one of our better performances in at least the last several weeks, that this could be the proverbial trap game,” he said about playing the 24-51 Bulls. “But the approach (Thursday) was very professional, starting with shootaround and throughout the course of the game.”

The Heat (41-35) are eighth in the league with a defensive rating of 104.1 points. That number has improved since the All-Star break with a 103.2 rating the last 18 games.

Heat opponents shot .452 from the field in the 58 games before the break and are shooting .448 since. And that pre-All-Star break number includes a season-high streak of three consecutive games in which Miami limited Charlotte, Dallas and Cleveland to field goal percentages lower than 40 percent.

Miami (41-35) would appear to have a good chance to extend its current streak to three games Saturday when it faces Brooklyn (24-51), the second-worst shooting team in the league at 439.

The problem: The Nets are shooting .474 (108 of 228) against the Heat this season while winning two of the three games.

“When I walked through these doors, that’s what they were preaching, coach was preaching, holding teams under 40 percent,” Dwyane Wade said. “The challenge of that in this league, with the way the game, how fast it goes, with the way people shoot the basketball, that’s as challenging as it gets. But when we do it, it feels so good. That’s our style of basketball. Even a night when we’re not having an explosion night offensively, if we’re able to play defense that way, then we’re going to give ourselves a chance, for sure.”

The Heat have shot less than 40 percent nine times this season but have manage to win four of those games.

For Miami, everything now is geared toward the playoffs, which start in two weeks. And being at the top of its game defensively would be a great help.

“In the playoffs it’s probably going to be more physical games,” Goran Dragic said. “It’s a little bit different. Still, as long as you have the system that you know how to defend and that everybody is on the same page I think that helps a lot. Then when it’s the playoffs you just try to be solid in every possession because everybody knows where their spots are.”

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