Clippers 79 - HEAT 97 Recap

MIAMI, February 6 – Nearly a month ago, the Los Angeles Clippers scored so well on the Miami HEAT, dropping 44 on them in the opening quarter, that the opening salvo effectively acted as the gateway to Miami’s four-game losing streak.

As far as Miami was concerned, there would be no repeat performance.

“It’s important not to allow them to get a lot of confidence like they did in L.A,” LeBron James said.

“We knew we had to get ready, and get right to the fight,” Wade said.

Though Sunday’s game featured the sloppy early play and turnovers typical of afternoon games – which break up a team’s routine – that attitude translated into the Clippers scoring 19 points in the first, and topping 20 in only the third quarter. Switching between a zone and aggressive rotations and double teams onto Blake Griffin, the HEAT had the Clippers so out of sorts that it nearly took them five minutes to hit a field goal in the fourth quarter.

However good the numbers are – 79 points in 100 possessions for the Los Angeles Clippers Sunday afternoon – Erik Spoelstra isn’t satisfied with the HEAT’s defensive performances after their 97-79 win.

“I feel like we have not been defending consistently,” Spoelstra said. “I feel like there have been lapses during the game.”

Some of that concern is well founded due to the HEAT occasionally allowing athletic players to cut, unhindered, down the middle of the lane. Some of it is Spoelstra simply playing the part of the coach, pushing his team away from complacency, to achieve another level. But another part, still, is that the defense is currently in the unenviable position of sitting in the shadow of the offense.

An offense that, for the past week, isn’t leaving much else to be desired.

Making this game a fitting companion piece to Friday’s win over the Charlotte Bobcats, the HEAT were in control throughout because of their offensive variety but didn’t take a commanding lead until the fourth quarter, with a little push from Eddie House.

The hallmark of Miami’s improved offense has been the rebirth of player and ball movement, present in part because the HEAT have shifted toward sets that force such activity, but also because of the resurgence of Mike Miller and Eddie House, whose catch-and-shoot talents ensure that the offense never stops.

And the spacing they afford the team, not only because of their shooting but because their movement puts pressure on the defense to not overplay Miami’s stars, has allowed Spoelstra to regularly use LeBron James at power forward. At times this benefits James, like when he dropped 51 on the Orlando Magic last week, but the past two games its been the shooters, specifically House, reaping the rewards.

With House, Miller and James Jones totaling 18 three-point attempts – significant because it shows how many decent-to-good looks Miami’s shooters are getting – House has made the timeliest offerings. Against Charlotte, his three triples to open the fourth quarter extended the HEAT’s lead to double digits and put the game in hand.

Today, his five points early in the final period made it a 14-point game and the defense cleaned things up as the Clippers never got within 12 the rest of the way.

“Certainly at times we’ve been smothering,” Spoelstra admitted.

So far, at times on defense and almost always on offense has the HEAT on a six-game winning streak and within a game of the Boston Celtics for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. And it’s a sign of how comfortable Miami is, with stable rotations and personnel, that the HEAT are finally letting themselves think about such things.

“It’s always something to think about,” Wade said. “Now it’s time to start thinking about the standings and really feel out where you want to be in the playoffs. Everyone wants that number one seed.”

But in the meantime, Spoelstra will keep pushing. As he’s said all year, there’s still another level to reach.

“We’re still searching for that complete game,” he said.