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The Night of the Pick-and-Roll

Outside of the quite lively chase for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, there isn’t much of a case to make for this game mattering one iota for the winners, the Miami HEAT, or the losers, the Chicago Bulls.

Sure you can mention that with a number of brouhaha’s between the likes of James Jones, Joakim Noah, Dwyane Wade, Rip Hamilton, LeBron James and John Lucas III the evening acted as a primer for a potential playoff series, but from the actual basketball played Thursday night we can take very little.

This is by design, of course.

Playbooks built around the skills of players like Derrick Rose and Chris Bosh will naturally shrink when those foundations not in uniform. In fact, there are some sets the HEAT simply can’t run without the presence of Bosh, usually making plays out of the high post. But even with that in mind, this was one of the more simplistic offensive games the HEAT have had since December of 2010.

How do we know that? Miami’s bread-and-butter, the action that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James could each run while kicking back and counting sheep, is the high pick-and-roll. Both players are highly capable of manufacturing offense out of those actions, but they can also produce stagnant, ball-sticking offense when the shots created aren’t falling.

That’s why Miami has averaged just 12.1 used pick-and-rolls – with shots, turnovers, or fouls drawn by the ballhander – this season in an attempt to better facilitate more a more fluid, well-spaced attack. Against the Bulls, the HEAT used 33 of that type of possession, along with another three where the ball found the screen-setter.

“Phoenix Suns East,” Shane Battier joked. “I kept looking for Steve Nash out there.”

It happened early, with Mario Chalmers in the first quarter, and over and over again with either Wade or James setting up at the top of the key and calling for a screen. And when it worked, with the trio of Wade, James and Chalmers earning 15 looks in the restricted area, things looked fine. But against a defense such as Chicago’s, the ballhandler won’t be able to get into the paint off the dribble every time even with perfect screens, hence Miami’s 29 attempts – 10 makes – in the most inefficient zones on the floor, outside of the paint and inside of the three-point line.

As you can see on the right.

This is not, however, a particularly negative thing. The Bulls, who average 14 used pick-and-rolls via ballhandlers a game, used 27 of those possessions themselves tonight. When two elite defenses play up to the level they did tonight, each team exchanging one Omega Swarm after another, the offensive byproduct tends to be less efficient and more dribble-heavy.

“In this league, especially against really good defensive teams, the earlier you can attack in the shot clock the better served you are over the long haul,” Battier said. “It’s really tough to pass the ball five times against the Bulls and expect a quality shot with the shot clock bearing down on you versus if you can force the action early and get an early pick-and-roll and create a two-on-one situation somewhere, you take those shots. Especially against the Boston’s and Chicago’s and the great defensive teams.”

Not to mention a HEAT team that held Chicago to 35.7 percent shooting and the shot chart on the right.

When James gets the switch in the pick-and-roll – same as at the end of a night when he and Wade play a two-man game – and isolates on Joakim Noah, that’s a situation you take. Which he did, and on the part of both Wade and James they did well to stray from the jumper when things went cold. But even following the old adages about offenses getting tighter as defenses improve in the postseason, neither offensive team can be taken as particularly indicative of future schemes.

No coach wants to suffocate their own offense with an overdose of the pick-and-roll if they can help it. But when you have to run something a week before the end of the regular season against a potential playoff opponent, the high pick-and-roll reveals as little as possible.

Should these two teams meet again, each will have a far more sophisticated approach with the ball, approaches each side has shown this season. What you can take from a game like this does show is how important Rose is to Chicago when the game, induced by defense, deteriorates into glorified isolations. Miami has two perimeter players that can dependably attack and create with the ball, and will always have one of them in the game. Chicago depends on one such player, and without him in the fourth quarter tonight, the Bulls were left to create look with multiple screens that were constantly and consistently thwarted.

With so much else, in the form of both lineups and strategy, left in the shadows, Thursday night offered little else other than a teaser trailer for what may come.

Statistical support for this article provided by NBA.com and Synergy Sports

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