The Miami Heat were changing their rotation on the fly during the road to an NBA championship last season.
After Chris Bosh went down with an injury in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. Indiana, the Heat became shorthanded inside. This led to smaller lineups with LeBron James and Shane Battier playing the four.
In the end, it would work out perfectly for the Heat. They managed to continue winning while Bosh was out and the smaller lineup featuring LeBron at the four would be the perfect foil vs. the Thunder in the NBA Finals.
Had the Heat suffered no injuries in the postseason last year, they may have never gone to this strategy and may not have even won the title.
Instead of trying to strengthen their big men this offseason, the Heat remained committed to the position-less style that won them a title last year.
The Sun-Sentinel is reporting that Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has decided upon a starting lineup for the upcoming season. He will have Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade in the backcourt, LeBron at small forward, Battier at power forward and Bosh at center.
This will leave Norris Cole, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Udonis Haslem as the primary players coming off the bench.
We heard earlier this summer how the Heat would start using LeBron as a four more this upcoming season and maybe even start him there. LeBron did say that he doesn’t see himself as a power forward playing out the rest of his career.
This smaller lineup with LeBron and Battier at the forward spots and Bosh at center will be perfect for the regular season. Despite making it to the Finals in each of the last two years, the Heat have not posted the best regular season records. If they can stay relatively healthy this season, we should expect to see them come out as the No. 1 seed in the East.
How does this affect the Thunder?
As we saw in the NBA Finals, the Thunder did not have the easiest time matching up with the Heat when they went small, mainly because the Thunder stuck to their guns of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins starting in their frontcourt.
With the Heat deciding to commit to the lineup that ensured them last year’s NBA title, it really can’t be looked at as good news for the Thunder. If the Thunder are healthy through next year’s playoffs and make it to the Finals again, we may see the same script play out if they are facing the Heat.
The Thunder were a more efficient offense last season when they themselves went small with Kevin Durant at the four. They did this some in the playoffs too but their rotation wasn’t versatile enough to stick to it enough to keep up with the Heat.
The Thunder may have gained that versatility back with a healthy Eric Maynor (or Reggie Jackson) and rookie Perry Jones III. Both of these guys could crack the 8- or 9-man rotation for the Thunder by the playoffs and help give OKC better lineups to match up with Miami in a potential Finals rematch.
The tough thing for the Thunder however is that they will probably not be relying on their small lineups as much in their road through the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Lakers right now are the biggest obstacle in the Thunder’s way of another trip to the Finals and OKC won’t be playing a lot of small ball vs. them.
Despite the Thunder having such a tough time against the Heat’s smaller lineup in the Finals, they were still very close to winning each of the first four games. They will be more experienced and poised if they are in that situation again next season and that may be enough for them to pull it out.