Jun 17, 2012; Miam, FL, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) is guarded by Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade (3) during the second quarter in game three in the 2012 NBA Finals at the American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Miami Heat to play faster next year, tougher for OKC Thunder now?

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Everything came together for the Miami Heat last year as they won an NBA championship, the first for LeBron James. Next is the greater challenge, trying to win another and it only gets harder.

The Heat players and coaching staff have talked about how the team can’t be the same next year. They need to adapt and evolve if they are going to win another title.

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra would like for the team to play more up-tempo next season.

“I hope to play faster,” Spoelstra told the Sun Sentinel. “We turned it up a gear last year and I think we have the personnel to hopefully go even faster. And I think with a normal training camp and a full season, we can build that habit a little bit more.”

With the addition of Ray Allen this season, Spoelstra and the Heat want to maximize his contributions, much of which come as s 3-point shooter in transition.

“He’s a Hall of Fame-type catch-and-shoot player,” Spoelstra said. “We haven’t had that element before in our offense. So it’s been a lot of fun, trying to X-and-O and come up with new ways to get him open. I don’t want to overthink it. I don’t want to totally change what we do, but that’s a great element to have, that type of weapon.”

Would the Heat become a tougher team for the Oklahoma City Thunder to beat if they are playing at a faster pace? Usually the consensus surrounding the Thunder is that they are at their best playing up-tempo.

The Thunder were fifth in the NBA last season in pace while the Heat were 14th. The Thunder had the second-best offensive efficiency while Miami was sixth.

In the playoffs up until the Finals, the Thunder were playing games at a greater pace in the West than what Miami was doing in the East. The Thunder had a higher offensive efficiency in the first three rounds than the Heat and then saw a significant decline in the Finals.

Thunder Pace Off Eff Heat Pace Off Eff
vs. DAL 92.8 107.6 vs. NYK 88.8 109.3
vs. LAL 89.8 111.5 vs. IND 91.3 103.1
vs. SAS 95.3 111.1 vs. BOS 91.4 106.4
vs. MIA 91.8 106.8 vs. OKC 91.8 110.9

The pace was much slower in the Finals than in the Western Conference Finals for the Thunder while the pace was about the same for the Heat in the Finals as it was in the previous two rounds. You would still say that the games between OKC and Miami were more up-tempo than the Eastern Conference Finals and Semifinals although the numbers only show a slight increase in pace.

Miami raised its offensive efficiency in the Finals too. Part of that was Chris Bosh returning and their new style using LeBron at the four. In the small sample size that was last year’s playoffs, it is safe to say that the Heat were better offensively in the Finals than any other time.

The Heat did dictate the pace in the Finals and play one closer to their style than the Thunder’s. So the question is, if the Heat were to run a little more and the series resembled more closely what we saw in the Western Conference Finals, would the Heat increase the advantage they had in offensive efficiency vs. the Thunder, or would the gap decrease?

It is pretty much common knowledge that one of the great equalizers in basketball is playing at a fast pace. It can make a less talented team able to compete with a better one. It’s also common knowledge that the game slows down in the playoffs with more of an emphasis on half court basketball.

Great up-tempo teams in the past always seem to underachieve in the playoffs. Look at the Phoenix Suns of the last decade and maybe even to a degree the San Antonio Spurs the past two seasons. If you are able to be one of the most efficient offenses in the league while playing at a slower pace, you are in better shape to win a title.

The Heat were pretty much like that last year. While they could be able to increase their regular season win total and look like a more efficient offense playing more up-tempo, it wouldn’t necessarily help them become a better championship-caliber team. That seems to be the wrong direction to go in.

Spoelstra isn’t talking about anything dramatic though here and when you have LeBron, it’s easier to become more versatile in your style of play.

Think about how the Thunder are trying to improve to. It isn’t by getting out and running more although they will never shy away from a fast break opportunity. It’s about establishing a post presence on offense and getting better shots in the half court offense. And it’s about being a better defensive team vs. the pick-and-roll.

It’s scary to think about LeBron and Dwyane Wade on a fast break with Ray Allen trailing for spot-up threes but those aren’t the things that decide championships.

As always, the Thunder aren’t worried about any other team except themselves. As long as they keep getting better, they will be in as good of position as anyone to win a title.

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Tags: Miami Heat Oklahoma City Thunder

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