Heat stealing offensive sets from the Lakers, Celtics

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During those dark, ugly games at the start of the season the Miami Heat offense seemed more like taking turns than some kind of actual offensive sets your high school coach would be proud of.

Now that they are winning… there is still a lot of simple sets. Against Utah the other night there was a crazy amount of LeBron James/Zydrunas Ilgauskas pick-and-roll. Which was working and you run something until the other team proves they can stop it, but it all seemed so simple.

However, the Heat are starting to figure out how to activate their players at the same time. Erik Spoelstra has borrowed some ideas from the Lakers and Celtics playbooks, something Zach Lowe broke down at Sports Illustrated’s Point Forward.

First, some triangle.

The Heat have started to position James, Bosh and Wade in a triangle on the same side of the floor. They don’t do it often, but they’re trying it and are getting good results so far. Perhaps the best example happened about four minutes into the first quarter Wednesday. As Carlos Arroyo brought the ball up the left side, the three Miami stars took up residency on the opposite side — Wade in the right corner, Bosh at the right elbow and James on the right wing beyond the three-point line. A nice little $340 million obtuse triangle. James’ defender (Raja Bell) stood facing the middle of the court, with his back turned to LeBron. He did not see Bosh, who stood right behind Bell, effectively setting a back screen for James. Arroyo passed James the ball, and as Bell shifted over to James, he turned right into Bosh’s chest. This forced Wade’s defender (Andrei Kirilenko) to rotate up from the right corner to help on James. Wade cut free along baseline, James slipped him a bounce pass, and Wade slammed the ball home over Paul Millsap.

Okay, that is not a triangle in the way the Lakers run it or Tex Winter dreamed it up. (What Tex dreamed up is often not what the Lakers run anyway.) The Lakers triangle is a read-and-react offense based on spacing. But the basic set is what Miami has started to use with its three big stars — form a triangle on one side and dare a team to figure out how to defend it. Too often before the sets had Wade with the ball on the wing and LeBron standing with his hands in his pockets on the weak side (or visa versa). This gets everyone on one side. Smart.

Now on to the Celtics playbook.

The Heat are using what I’ve nicknamed the “rugby scrum” play, a staple in Boston’s offense and now Chicago’s as well. The two big men on the floor run out to the top of the key as a tag team and set a monster double screen for a ball-handler — and in Miami’s case, it has been Wade handling the ball almost every time they run this action. The play has been a devastating weapon in Boston, and it works especially well when both big men are capable pick-and-pop shooters. Hurry back, Udonis Haslem.

One other thing to watch for is the James/Wade pick and roll, which also can be devastating.

Still a ways to go, but the Heat are getting there, starting to figure it out.