Prized Possession: Cavs-HEAT

The following is part of an on-going series that features a single HEAT possession, one which may not result in points but gives the team the best chance to win. It is impossible to duplicate an individual shot, but it is possible to re-create the same opportunities, and the effort that went into earning them.

In many ways, this has been the week of Mike Miller. Since his 32-point explosion against the Toronto Raptors on January 22 heralded the return of his game legs, Miller is paying dividends on the 29.75 minutes he's played in the past four outings.

They aren’t hollow minutes, either. Averaging 7.0 points, 8.75 rebounds and a couple assists in those four since Toronto, Miller has seen his usage percentage – the percent of plays the player uses while on the floor – rise to fourth-highest on the team, at 16.7 percent.

That percentage has had to rise, too, to make the lineups possible with no true point guards on the floor. In 18.23 minutes, the lineup of Eddie House, Miller, James Jones, LeBron James and Joel Anthony has been 46.55 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents (unadjusted). The House-Wade-Miller-Bosh-Anthony combination, the subject of today’s prized possession, has been even better, scoring 55.55 points per 100 possessions better in 19.87 total minutes.

Those lineups are working in no small part because Miller has locked down the boards, his total rebounding percentage of 14.3 – the percent of available rebounds he grabs while on the floor – the most, by 3.5 percent, of any shooting guard in the league getting more than 10 minutes a game. He’s only played 273 total minutes, but the small sample size, and the hustle and energy our eyes can see, are enough to indicate a positive rebounding trend.

That said, it’s very possible that his most lasting contribution, the one that makes those lineups possible, is his ability to make, and use, plays. And in effect, take the pressure off Miami’s All-Stars for a few possessions a game. For an example, let’s go to last night’s tape.

The baseline out-of-bounds call here is Miami's "Box Floppy" set, and before we dig in, assistant coach David Fizdale lays out what the HEAT are tying to accomplish.

"It’s to get a guy coming off a screen for a catch-and-shoot," Fizdale said. "Once we get it in bounds, what we want to do is we want to attack off the dribble, and try to draw two guys and create an open shot for someone else."

We begin with Miller inbounding to Wade in the right corner. Wade quickly throws the ball up top to House, with 13 seconds on the shot clock, and the possession is afoot. Off screen, Wade cuts along the baseline and Miller pops back out to the corner off a screen to receive the pass, where the first planned opportunity is supposed to be.

What ensues is a lesson in quick decisions, and bending the defense to your will.

Upon seeing that a shot was not available, Miller – out of the triple-threat position, for those playing youth basketball – quickly puts the ball on the floor, going right. It takes a single dribble, and Miller has already drawn two defenders: his own, and that of Joel Anthony. Which means Miami’s center is the open man, and when the HEAT’s offense is operating at its peak, that’s where the ball will find itself.

That Anthony, who takes 1.2 shots a game, was in position to score is almost of secondary value to the possession. With the defense momentarily out of position, it is forced to react to the ball entering the lower offensive zone, and Anthony, with a drop-step and a power dribble, draws both interior defenders and the eyes of all five Cavaliers.

This action makes the possession. The vast majority of the time, once a defense shifts into recovery mode, particularly below the hashmarks, a moving basketball will find an open shot somewhere on the floor. A well-thrown pass, the textbooks say, will always move faster than a body.

After kicking the ball back out to Miller, Anthony has successfully created an offensive opportunity for one of his teammates, all with one tick coming off the shot clock.

As Miller catches, Christian Eyenga closes out, but with Ramon Sessions shading towards Miller, perhaps wary of him attacking to his right again, a passing lane is available to House on the right wing. Once again: open man, pass.

Just as Miller did earlier in the right corner, House uses the defender’s left-moving momentum against him, driving left. Two quick dribbles and Miller’s man slides over to cut House off.

Boom. Four seconds left on the clock, and Miller, a career 40 percent three-point shooter, has an open look beyond the arc.

"Once we got it around to House, he did a great job of attacking the middle of the floor and drawing Miller’s man, pitching it to Miller in rhythm, and we got an open three-point shot," Fizdale said.

The shot falling is not important. The HEAT successfully attacked multiple offensive zones, got the defense rotating, and got a player open in a spot where he is efficient.

This would probably be a good time to remind you that Wade and Bosh were on the court this entire possession, on the weakside. They are live, not decoys, but the call is not for them. Some may see this as not utilizing Miami’s most valuable resources, but nobody should be worried about those players getting touches. The more a team relies on a select few, not to shoot but to make things happen, the more predictable, and thus guardable, it becomes.

Miller, House and Anthony don’t have to do this all the time. All it takes is a few possessions a game, like this one or Mario Chalmers’ steal and fastbreak early in the game, of role players creating to increase the burden on a defense.

"It’s critical," Fizdale said. "When team’s have to play all five guys on the court, it just opens up your offense and it’s going to open up driving lanes for Dwyane, LeBron and Chris. I think all of our role players need to be aggressive about scoring because those other guys are going to draw double teams. Once those guys get the ball, they’re going to have a window of opportunity to score for us or to draw another two players and get us a really good shot."

And in the playoffs, against a team like the Boston Celtics, that burden of playing five men, that threat of Miller or House probing the defense and drawing it out of position, can make all the difference.

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