Heat_defense

Miami is a defensive juggernaut. But will it last?

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Right now, the Miami Heat are the best defensive team in basketball.

Yes, we know — you have to be careful about what kind of conclusions you draw from a team three games into a season. Small sample size alert. And it also depends on how you count the numbers — Basketball-Reference has them the best at 90.3 points per possession, Hoopdata has them seventh at 92.7.

But nobody who watched the second half of last night’s Miami blowout would argue that the Heat are a defensive power — Orlando shot 7 for 36 in the second half, and Miami converted those misses into transition points. And Miami — with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James — are to be feared in transition.

The question is, can Miami keep it up? The deeper stats at Hoopdata have some conflicting answers.

The Heat are aggressive defensively. Right now the Heat are making defensive plays — getting the steal, blocking the shot, taking the charge. Miami’s defensive play rate of 19.1 per 100 shows the Heat aggression — they are getting the steal or the block basically one-in-five times down the court. That is fourth best in the league.

That translates to fast break points the other way. And remember what we said about the Heat in transition.

The Heat can and almost certainly will keep up this aggressive play. They pride themselves on being aggressive.

But there are other numbers that raise doubts about if they can sustain this level of success.

Right now Miami is letting teams get to the rim — 25.5 shots per game that are layups or dunks, which is ninth most in the league. However, when teams get there they are shooting just 54.9 percent at the rim, fifth lowest percentage in the league.

Usually, teams with big front lines are ones that can both keep teams from shooting at the rim and keep them shooting a low percentage when they get there (teams keeping opponents to a lower shooting percentage at the rim than Miami include the Lakers, Nets and Nuggets, which are long front lines).

It is unlikely Miami keeps those numbers up. Either they will start to keep people away from the rim or teams will start to finish better. And score more points, and limit those fast break opportunities.

By the same count, Miami is forcing teams to take only 15.5 long two-pointers per game, shots from 16 feet out to the arc that are the least efficient in basketball. The Heat are sixth worst in the league right now in that category. It’s hard to be an efficient defense if you don’t force teams into inefficient shots.

But three games in, the Heat are that. We will see if it lasts.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.

Isaiah Thomas nutmegs Knicks center Marshall Plumlee (video)

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Isaiah Thomas usually saves his best play for the fourth quarter, but the Celtics guard showed out early with this pass between Marshall Plumlee‘s legs to get Kelly Olynyk a layup.

Thomas uncharacteristically just didn’t have enough late. Though he scored 39 points, he shot just 2-for-9 in the final period, as the Knicks pulled away for a 117-106 win.

Kevin Durant misses dunk so hard, ball flies past halfcourt (video)

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Kevin Durant played great in the Warriors’ win over the Thunder last night, but – perhaps fueled by excess emotion – he missed this incredibly emphatic dunk attempt.

Later, Russell Westbrook showed his former teammate how to do it (sparking their apparent conversation):

James Harden outduels Giannis Antetokounmpo as they produce fantastic highlight video

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James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo met in a battle of two of the NBA’s best point guards. (Still weird to say.) The final lines:

  • Harden: 38 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks
  • Antetokounmpo: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks

The winner? Harden and the Rockets, who topped the Bucks, 111-92.

But the real winner? Anyone who gets to watch this highlight video. It just gets better as it goes.