You know the old saying, “when the going get tough, the tough get out and run in transition?”
Well, the Miami Heat are tough and they like to get out and suffocate you with their transition offense. It’s not even really so much a transition offense as it is a locomotive coming at you in one of those old-timey Westerns. Their opponents get careless with the ball and essentially tie themselves to the tracks and allow the Heat to twist their mischievous and villainous mustaches as they wait for the 3:10 to Yuma to come barreling through.
In three games this season, they’ve already amassed 70 fastbreak points against their opponents. They had 31 in a Christmas day blowout win over the Mavericks, 19 in a much more modest win against the Celtics, and 20 in a nail-biter against the lowly but equally scrappy Bobcats. While you can chalk it up to a little viewing of “Small Sample Size Theater,” the Heat are obliterating the 13.5 fastbreak points per game they averaged last season. The big reason for this is obviously the stalking duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
They treat the passing lanes like a pretty girl they noticed on Twitter and just had to know more about. They try to find them on Facebook, glean any information about location and workplace they can, follow the passing lanes on Foursquare to attempt to just “happen” into the same place one night. They follow them home and make notes about all of the entry points. They wait until nobody is home and then break in to steal the shoes and clothes from the passing lanes’ closet. They steal knickknacks to make a shrine of the passing lanes.
The Heat are so athletic and quick that they also get a ton of run-out opportunities from blocked shots and rebounding. If LeBron is near the top of the key, as soon as someone secures the rebound he’s already leaked out to halfcourt. Dwyane Wade does the same thing. Hesitate to get back on defense for a second, and you find yourself in a foot race you simply can’t win. Doesn’t matter if it’s coming off of a blocked shot, stolen pass, long rebound, short rebound or even a made basket, the Heat are going to try to jam the ball down your gullet.
According to Synergy Sports, of the 60 transition plays Miami has had, 22 of them have come off of rebounds, 22 of them have come off of turnovers, 10 of them have come off of blocked shots and six of them have come off of made baskets. Any slip up you make as a team in terms of getting back defensively, the Heat will take advantage of it.
If we were looking at this ability of Miami to get out into transition quickly after Monday’s game against the Thunder, I wouldn’t be so worried. The Wolves turned the ball over just 12 times that night. But after seeing the reckless abandonment of taking care of possessions against the Bucks, I have to say I’m a little concerned. There is a glimmer of hope throughout all of this chaos created in the open court. Miami turns the ball over a lot on their fastbreaks.
So far in the 60 transition plays, they’ve turned the ball over 13 times. This is heavily swayed by the game against the Celtics in which they turned the ball over eight times in 21 transition plays, but I think the overall take can still be that they’re sloppy when trying to break out into a fastbreak. When someone on Miami gets the ball, they’re immediately looking to push it forward. Sometimes, they throw the pass without truly surveying the hardwood ahead of them. Maybe this is a thirst for demoralizing dunks or maybe it’s just getting too excited to go the other way.
Whatever the problem is, you can pick off their passes pretty quickly into the break. With how active and long the wings and Rubio are for Minnesota, any turnover deep into the halfcourt set (i.e. – in the paint or below the free throw line) could be tipped and brought back our way. However, turn the ball over above the free throw line and the Heat are looking at making SportsCenter’s Top 10.
It’s also essential the Wolves knock down shots from the perimeter. Obviously, scoring points and making shots are a big key toward winning (Analysis!), but allowing long rebounds to go the way of Miami is a recipe for transition disaster. What was a strength of the Wolves last season has been a detriment to their offensive capabilities the first two games. The Wolves have made just 9/36 (25%) attempts from 3-point range and 9/30 (30%) from 16-23 feet. Last season, Minnesota made 37.6% of their 3-pointers and 38.5% of their long 2-point shots. Finding a way back to making shots should also help prevent Miami from leaking out.
Taking care of the ball is a very basic principle in basketball. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot and you’ll be able to walk forward. That may never be more prevalent than when the Wolves square off against the South Beachers tonight. Let’s hope that the Wolves are pushing the ball in transition against Miami and not tying themselves to the railroad tracks.