Wednesday, January 4th, 2012 at 10:00 am  |  56 responses

Miami Heat Struggling Against Zone Defenses

The Miami Heat’s Achilles’ Heel this season appears to be the zone defense, and they’ll have to figure out a way to overcome it all year long. From Sporting News: “If you want to find the genesis for the Miami Heat’s first loss of the season—to Atlanta at home on Monday—you might turn to Dwane Casey and Rick Carlisle last season. At that time, Casey was Carlisle’s ‘defensive coordinator’ in Dallas, and it was clear to both coaches that with the elderly legs on the Mavericks’ roster, they needed a way to mask their lack of quickness. Zone defense was the perfect antidote, and Dallas’ zone allowed the Mavs to keep fogeys like Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki on the floor for longer stretches. When Dallas beat Miami for last year’s championship, the Heat’s perimeter woes were exposed and the zone got partial credit. Fast forward to this year, when Celtics coach Doc Rivers, dealing not only with a well-aged roster but also with a compressed post-lockout schedule and a pair of young East rivals in Miami and Chicago that can easily outrun his bunch, took a page from the Mavs and instituted a zone scheme Boston could run at times. The Celtics played the Heat in the second game of the year and, after falling behind by 20, began trotting out the zone. They cut the lead to three before the Heat held on to win. Atlanta coach Larry Drew noticed. Though his team is younger, longer and more athletic than the Celtics, he still put the Hawks into a zone after they fell behind by 10 to the Heat. It was the Hawks’ zone that was primarily responsible for slowing down the Heat in the halfcourt, and after the game, coach Erik Spoelstra underscored that point. ‘We do need to get better and address it,’ Spoelstra said. ‘They went to the zone and we got out of our rhythm, and what was disappointing was it affected us and our concentration from that point on. We will get better at it. This is something we need to have a breakthrough with.’ There is no reason to overreact, of course. It’s one loss, and there are 60 more games to play, for a team that, like everyone else, had just two preseason games to prepare for the year. That sort of logic has never been enough to stop an overreaction when it comes to Miami, and the Heat’s trouble with zone defenses figures to pop up as a storyline whenever they struggle against any defense that is not man-to-man, much like their problems in late-game situations last year.”

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  • shutup

    DUH….because their coach couldnt coach his way out of a paper bag. What do you do when the give wade the ball iso play doesnt work, then you try give the ball to lebron iso doesnt work, you look to bosh in the post shake your head and go back to the give wade the ball iso play and try again

  • Vaughn Maynor

    Only ONE problem with their offense, maybe the Heat should try the zone, maybe a 3-2, then see what happens. This season, if they can overcome the zone issue, they’ll go…I’ll say 55-11. They are going to win the championship this season. I garuntee it.

  • zero

    If they dont win this season I think one of those 3 will be traded for role players that can really help the Heat to win a championship.

  • shutup

    its a major problem though, playoff basketball is won and lost in the halfcourt set. The open floor is where athleticism dominates but once the game is slowed down its chess not checkers.


    i hate spo for this so much. all you need against zone is a couple of 3 point shooters on the floor. But for some apparent reason JJ cannot sniff any floor time.

  • neaorin

    This is why I thought that LeBron not shooting the three anymore was a mistake. You have to make teams respect it, otherwise it makes the zone that much more effective against you. He may still be practicing it but practice and games are different things. IMO he has to attempt at least one or two during each game.

  • Ldub20

    playing many years of bball myself the zone is one of the easiest defenses to break down. With ball movement and shooters, it creates so many problems for the defense. If you have a 3-2, you gotta dump it to the corners or down low. If its a 2-3 you gotta get it to the wings. and it doesnt necessary have to be a 3 point shot. No person in the nba can move faster than another can pass. make 3-4 quick passes and i guarantee the defense is out of position. even if you dont knock down the shot, it creates other opportunities to score because the D is out of position. Yes the coach is somewhat respnsble, but so are the players on the floor. Wade,Bron and Bosh have played enough games and seasons of basketball to understand what it takes to beat a zone. and they definitely have the talen to do so. I agree with zero…one of them have to go. Id say Bosh for 2 role players. Definitely a C, and a more consistent 2-3 that can knock down shots.

  • Rik Smits Mullet

    Does anybody know why the zone was unbanned after the 2001-2002 season in the nba?
    Hope mike miller comes back with a vengeance!!!

  • Ldub20


  • AD

    @Ldub true the zone can be broken down but it is much harder in the NBA due to “talent” plus they do not hav a pure passer,…. If one of their stars was a shooter like durant lol than maybe it will work but……

  • http://nba.com/celtics lights out

    MUBWAR is right. James Jones can shoot the lights out and make zones pay. yet he did not play a second against Dallas in the finals.

  • Ldub20

    @neaorin….lebron is a poor 3pt shooter. much more efficient to get buckets closer to the cup. its not a mistake to not shoot…it helps the team because he is such a poor 3 point shooter. long shots mean long rebounds and more chances for fast breaks. everyone already stands around and watches lebron or wade. so if they are shooting 3s..its flows in favor of the opposition. they are both poor 3 point shooters. and he didnt say he wouldnt shoot them “anymore”. he said he wasnt going to shoot them as much. so far this season 30ppg,8rbs,6asts 2 stls? on just above 55% shooting. he would be down to like 40% if he was shooting 3′s. why chuck a 3 when you could get an easy 2? game is about #’s and %’s

  • neaorin

    LeBron is NOT a poor three point shooter. He is average. He has about the same career average (33%) as Odom or Marion, who are/were fine zone busters. The fact that he is only average AND that the rest of his game is so damn overpowering means he really has no business taking more than a couple during any normal game, but his 3 MUST be respected by opponents who are thinking about zoning the Heat. It’s not “shoot a 3 or get an easy 2″ because a zone is supposed to take AWAY the easy 2. That’s the whole point.

  • neaorin

    “and he didnt say he wouldnt shoot them “anymore”. he said he wasnt going to shoot them as much”. He has attempted exactly ONE three in six games this season, and that was because the clock was running out on the play.

  • http://www.slamonline.com J

    If the opponents play zone. Give it to Bosh/Bron on the low block. This is the time where Lebron should really be doing damage on the low post. He is an excellent passer. He can find open guys on the perimeter. A low post guy surrounded by shooters (and proper spacing) is key to breaking down the zone. The question is who’s doin work down low? I’d say it should be mostly Bosh and Lebron. Wade can be contained better by the D on the block rather than the perimeter. He shouldn’t be going there as much as the other two. The problem is, Wade might be the best post player of the trio.

  • DeeDre

    Yeah because zone requires you to actually make a shot instead of bullying yourself to the basket for easy dunk.

  • http://www.slamonline.com J

    Also.. in a zone, Lebron, since he won’t turn to Hakeem overnight, should play most at MID-POST FACE UP in that kind of defense. It gives him MUCH more advantages and negates more defenders to contain him than what he receives coming from the perimeter. Actually the key in making ANY kind of defense less effective is keeping them honest at bay and making them pay with their double teams/ help-d. Ball, AND player movement ofcourse, always.

  • Kadavour

    zone buster and press break is taught to in JV camps. All of these guys know how to run and implement these offenses. Miami’s starting rotation has to be more willing to take one-dribble then shoot.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    The zone should be easy to break. Spoelstra’s lack of an imagination is appalling. I have never seen a competitive team repeatedly go to iso-basketball against a zone like the Heat do in my life.

  • jimmy gRam

    One of the advantages NBA defenses have in playing the zone over college teams is that the shot clock is 11 seconds less. Collegiate teams that attack the zone well use a flurry of passes for the first 15-20 seconds (especially early in the game to wear down the D) and wait for a hole to open up. LBJ and Wade aren’t guys who like waiting around for a play to develop. I think they can get better at attacking the zone, but they can’t think that just because they’ve gotten past one player in the zone, whether it be by driving past them or using a pick, they should automatically look to score near the hoop (where 2-4 defenders will likely be waiting for them).

  • Ldub20

    @neaorin…33% is poor. 1 for 3 is decent, 2 for 6 is ok 3 for 9, 4 for 12 5 for 15, 6 for 18. all of these are 33% and if someone where to have a 33% shooting game, its not that great of a game as long as its under 10 shots. as far as him not shooting as much 3s…feel free to read the article again so you can correct yourself. Fact of the matter is…the closer you get to the rim, the better your chances should be at scoring. That fact definitely fits LeBron. And with his “talents”, its best for him not to take as many 3s. There really isnt much of a debate here. He is scoring at will, inside of arc. And for you to think that people need to “respect his 3″ is crazy. He doesnt need a 3 point shot to be respected. People already play off of him because he is so strong and fast. HE SIMPLY DOESNT NEED A 3. Look at Jordan, AI, and whomever else could dominate a game inside the 3 and not have a great/good 3 point shot. its not NEEDED!

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    People do know that it’s damn near impossible to post up one-on-one in a zone, right?

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    No they clearly don’t.

  • neaorin

    Ldub: Fact of the matter is… all the “closer to the rim” talk is 100% correct EXCEPT for when the opponent goes zone on you! That’s the whole discussion! The fact that people play off LeBron when he has the ball is irrelevant, this is about teams going zone and cheating off him when he DOESN’T have the ball. A lot of times Wade or Bosh will have the ball so you don’t want them to collapse the zone only to have LeBron clank an open 3. This goes for Wade as well. This is what ‘respecting his 3′ is about when talking specifically about zone D. Yes there are plenty of ways to break down zones, high post, ball movement, attack the middle etc. but inside shots will be better contested while you tend to get a lot of open looks from outside the line. Take what the defense gives you. And what is MJ doing in a discussion about zone defenses in the NBA?

  • T-Ray

    Cosign JTaylor
    Some people swear they know the game of basketball smh instead of one-on-one post up why not run a high low with Bosh and James? Whoever is at the top they have to respect their mid range game and although neither one of them is a beast on the low block defenses have to respect their presence.

  • http://leipzig-eagles.de/ Speedy

    So the Heat lose one!!! game and guys here think it’s over.
    They will adjust.


    Quick Passin & player movement , Pentration , Trey Shooting can’t be that hard with this team. Make it happen guys.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    What Miami needs to do (imo) against Zone defenses, is run a high-lo set with Bosh/Haslem, or Bosh/James, and have the 2 wings (not the PG) crash the boards. They are way to athletic on the perimeter for a team playing a zone defense to be effective against them on the boards if they are crashing and being aggressive. It is infuriating watching NBA teams/players react like they have never even seen a zone, let alone played against one.

  • Heals

    Ugghhhh, I’m torn on this one. Part says this is way overblown for a team that is coming off a Finals appearance (first year together and awful roster depth) and has only 1 loss this year (really no training camp or practice time). Then again Dal beat them by using it effectively at times to change tempo, they should have lost to Minny and Cha, Bos was able to hang around in a game they should have been blownout and without their 1a best player using it. All things considered a team needs the players and athleticism to execute, the discipline to stick to it, the offensive firepower to support doing it for long stretches and most importantly they have to do it in June for 4 games in a best os 7…

  • Dyce

    Heat just need a coach or at least an assistant coach who can teach them how to attack a zone. Ball movement isn’t the only way to attack a zone. You can set picks in zones its actually easier to get an open shot in the zone. But the players are just used to iso plays.

  • redrum

    i cant believe what is going on here… internet coache wannabies telling a guy who had been around the league for 20 years what to do to break zones… seriously guys l, you really think yiu have more if an idea how to coach?? tell you what i bet you even the video intern in worst nba team knows more about ball than any of us.

  • Ldub20

    the point is if its a zone defense, then lebron being able to knock down a 3 is what is irrelevant. because when the ball moves so does the defense. so what the hell does lebron shooting more 3s have to do with anything? if you have a player that cant really shoot, and isnt a stand still shooting/spot up shooter…it doesnt matter if there is a player close to him or not. that is why miller, jones, house etc were brought to miami. to be the stand still spot up shooters. lebron shooting 3s doesnt make the team better, nor does it strike fear into anybody on the opposing team. the point being made is…lebron is a slasher..better to get to the rim and make something happen (not necessarily with a shot) but it breaks down the defense which creates opportunities for other players when you drive and dish (once the d collapses). Jordan is in the discussion because he was not a great 3 point shooter still got the job done against whatever defense there was. bottom line is this…Lebron doesnt need to be the one shooting 3s regardless of the defense or scenario. based purely on the fact that that is probably his weakest asset, he isnt a spot up shooter, his clutch % is low…the list could go on and on. Lebrons 3 will never be respected unless he turns into ray allen. Not gonna happen!

  • Ldub20

    @jtaylor21….wasnt saying to score from the post..but you do have to dump it down to collapse the defense. yes the talent in the nba is much greater than that of college..and “jimmy gRam” made a good point with the shot clock, but still Miami is talented enough to figure it out. and to quote myself again for “neaorin”…it aint with LBJ chucking 3s

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    basketball is basketball. It’s not a different sport in the NBA then it is anywhere else. Which is why people like myself, get frustrated when they don’t see an NBA team react in any relatively appropriate way to a zone defense. And Spoelstra is probably not focusing on a zone offense at all. Which is why the team looks so lost. But that isn’t fun to think about when commenting, it’s better to ignorantly criticize him because you know, this is a comment section.

  • http://www.slamonline.com SMills

    Stick Lebron on the freethrow line and let him work his mid range game while guys like jones,battier, chalmers, cole, wade hurt you from the 3 and or cut to the hoop and let Lebrons passing ability shine.

  • Drunyce

    I came in this thread to see what the “experts” here had to say about the zone. SMH … ( I knew most of you were clueless.) The reason why Miami has problems with the zone is because Wade/LBJ/Bosh are streaky shooters; not “pure” shooters. All you have to do is make some open jump shots and the zone goes away. Which is not a strength of batman, robin, or cat woman.

  • Drunyce

    When a dude can shoot from the outside, but needs to score inside first, that’s called a streaky shooter, NOT a pure shooter. Iverson was like this. Guys like Dirk & Durant are pure shooters — they’ll shoot it the same way whether they’re 10/12 or 0/9, b/c they have faith in their mechanics & natural ability. LBJ & Wade need to get to the rack & FT line before they feel comfortable w/ their jump-shots. This is why playin’ zone throughout the gm w. long defenders (like DAL & ATL have) will always be effective vs MIA.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    The Zone is designed to make teams shoot. If the Heat could shoot teams out of the zone, then teams wouldn’t play a zone against the Heat.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    If you’re a team that struggles against a zone it’s because you don’t have shooters and/or you are not crashing the boards. The fact that LeBron, Wade, Bosh, and the rest of the Heat (except Mike Miller but he’s hurt) aren’t pure shooters is implied by the fact that teams are using a zone to neutralize them, the idea is to run an offense that doesn’t require you to be good at shooting to beat a zone.

  • Anonymosdef

    Just thought I’d throw out some random career shooting percentages and fgm/fga from 3. I’m curious about what you guys think a guy has to shoot from downtown to be considered a threat.

    Carmelo Anthony 32.1% 473-1,472
    Kevin Durant 36.0% 444-1235
    LeBron James 32.9% 863-2624
    Kobe Bryant 33.8% 1425-4218
    Dwayne Wade 29.2% 309-1058
    Derrick Rose 31.3% 171-546
    Deron Williams 35.3% 536-1518
    Chris Paul 35.9% 383-1066

    I’m a long time lurker and I just figured I’d post the 3pt stats of the cats you guys love to argue over the most so that you can argue some more. Discuss…

  • http://www.optimabbc.be Max

    Run High-Low with Bosh and Lebron?

  • Brahsef

    Keep playin zone defenses against the Heat and theyll begin to dominate it. Theres a reason why zone is rarely played in the nba.

  • Brahsef

    And I still don’t understand why people think Brons a bad 3 point shooter. He’s on par with other superstar wing players. His stroke is no way pure but it works.

  • Heals

    Another thing many of the coachmenters are forgetting is the difference between knowing what to do to attack a particular defense and being able to execute that knowledge in the midst of competition…

  • neaorin

    Ldub20 I’m sick of this “LeBron is a slasher, he needs to take it to the rim every time” BS. LeBron is not Superman (not D12) to attack on every play… do you not see the dueling banjos routine he has going with Wade? The fact that they take turns creating? Do you not understand that Bosh needs his number called up too, in order for him to maintain any rhythm? But most of all, he’s human. This isn’t freaking NBA 2k arcade mode where you play LeBron and dunk fifty times each half. This is the real NBA where LeBron sometimes is not involved in plays and has to play the part of spot up shooter for spacing purposes. Same goes for Wade. LeBron could never do the LeBron stuff _all the damn time_ when he was in Cleveland… he isn’t gonna do it here. He needs to knock down the open 3 enough that Wade has the space to open up the defense – and the other way around. 33% is good enough for that… but if he stops shooting it completely as he has done so far, that can’t really help. I’m not saying he should chuck 3s, just that a couple of 3s a game would help.

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    I’m wondering if it’s not just the heat though… Lakers? OKC? NYK? I would utilise the zone against these teams also in stretches… until the coaches respond…. To think that we could have MIKE BROWN and ERIK SPOELSTRA going head to head in a finals series…???? You would think that coaches have nothing to do with it anymore….????

  • http://www.slamonline.com J

    It is not near impossible to go to the post in a zone (see lakers v suns wcf 2010). Lakers stick to the triangle in which the post is an integral part. Kobe Gasol never stop going to the post. LA isn’t a great shooting team, which is the point of the Suns zoning them, but what the lakers had is great spacing and ball movement (unless kobe chucks). Again the post is just one part. Ball movement and player movement is the main ingridient. In any kind of defense. Always.

  • Ldub20

    @neaorin someone seems to have gotten their panties in a bunch. Plain and Simple, there are other roles (in which Lebron would be suited for) in the offense. Shooting more 3s is not one of them. It doesnt even necessarilyy have to be a 3…he could be 2-4 feet inside the 3. What Im saying is…yes lebron is a slasher, and yet again you failed to see the part that says “drive and dish”. I never said he had to try and dunk everytime, or even go to the rim every single time(ex mid range) and trust me I am aware this is no video game, because if it was Lebron would be averaging 40ppg easy. I understand your point, but it would not make the team better for LBJ to pull the 3, when he is capable of being MORE effective by driving or passing. He is a playmaker/creator just like wade. You get a guy like James Jones into a flow, or miller into a flow, and you can expect the 3s to drop. That is their specialty. THEY SHOOT. Let Wade and James create for the others when the D is in a zone. Id hate to ball with you (assuming you even ball)…trying to make someone who isnt a shooter, shoot so the shot will be “respected”? thats a joke. you keep shooting and keep missing and then D will just play closer to the rim, because your shot isnt falling. GOOD ONE!

  • http://www.slamonline.com J

    Another thing is.. The heat still lack a go to offensive set. SMH. I mean what plays can the heat live in die with? Spo is a Pat Riley protegé, he can’t be that poor on having a clear offense right? SMH again..

  • neaorin

    I’ll say it differently, maybe you will get my point: every time the defense goes into a zone, any perimeter player who is not at least a decent three point shooter is a potential liability. With James and Wade (and Bosh in the mix) you just can’t have BOTH of them creating on EVERY play and most times, one of them is gonna be out on the perimeter. Yes, both are better suited to do other stuff but there just isn’t enough basketball available. You don’t want a situation where their man is gonna cheat and head over to help on the ball, thinking he can’t make an open three often enough. And this will happen lots of times in a zone. Again, I think that both Wade and LeBron are adequate at shooting the open trey, but LeBron seems to have tuned out shooting threes completely at least so far, which can’t help if you think about the playoff battles lying ahead.

  • neaorin

    case in point: Wade’s game winner against the Bobcats. Man to man D, not zone, but where is LeBron? Spotting up in the corner. Lots of times one of them will be in that position.

  • Ldub20

    For whatever reason, this has turned into a 3 point debate instead of a zone debate. the zone doesnt not have to be beaten by a 3 point shooter. And just because Lebron can every now and then hit a three, doesnt mean he should stand and wait for it. I think you are failing to realize that James is NOT and i repeat, NOT a spot up shooter. That 33% career 3 point % is not from him standing, catching and shooting…its from him creating for himself, coming off a screen or whatever. It is not from him waiting for the ball to be delivered. One of them will be in that position because all they do is ISO one or the other. They have to give room for the other because for the past 7 years, that has been the offense. Give to your superstar and let them create. And its not necessarily a “spot up” its more or less a clear out! ill stand over here and give you as much space as possible so you can do your thing. if you miss i will crash. one thing we will agree on is this “lebron definitely has tuned out the 3″. zone or not its not needed and his stats reflect that. either way, respnd or not, im out!

  • shutup

    a good slashing pg can break a zone down (much like Rondo, Chris Paul, Derron Williams), which miami doesnt have. zones dont make other teams shoot, they protect the rim (2-3) or the 3 point line (3-2). you break a zone down with ball movement and floor spacing, granted its harder when your shot clock is so short. It all leads back to the coach and I commend Lebron for being more aggressive towards the rim, or not settling for long jumpshots, controlled aggression will lead to an increase of free throws. Bottom line .

  • Justin G.

    I get more entertainment reading comments from the guys who think they know more about coaching in the NBA than Mike Brown and Erik Spoelstra than just about anything else on here. It’s always funny when coaches around the league say that from where they sit those guys do a good job when really they should be taking advice from the internet wannabes. OK, as you were…

  • feez_22

    … the heat have 3 ball stoppers on the offense. as everyone is saying here… movement and shooting is needed to break a zone. It should be easy to do but… well… I am not even going to say that spo is the only coach that can’t combat it. The Oklahoma city thunder also suck against the zone because of their ball stopping PG, bad shooting @ starting SG (thabo) and the concentration on durant. I mean c-mon… high school coaches and college coaches have mastered the killing of the zone defense. time for NBA coaches to do the same.

  • trueballer

    they need to run a dame play that kills the ZONE! GO HEAT!