MIAMI — Erik Spoelstra, Michael Malone, and their staffs have been pouring over film and losing sleep, trying to come up with adjustments. Everyone is looking for that little edge.
But four games into a series, there are not a lot of secrets left. Everyone knows what is coming. It can be more about execution and effort over adjustments.
“I think it’s a little bit of both,” the Heat’s Haywood Highsmith said. “It’s definitely some things we can adjust on, and then it’s also about a little bit more effort and just doing more. You always need more, always can do more… we definitely have to make some adjustments on both ends of the floor, but you know, we’ll figure it out.”
The Heat need to figure it out before Game 4 on Friday night, because they can’t afford to go down 3-1 to the Nuggets in this series. Game 4 is as close as it gets to must-win for Jimmy Butler and the Heat.
Here are two things worth watching in Game 4, plus some betting advice from Vaughn Dalzell of NBC Sports Edge.
1) Miami has to slow the Jokic/Murray two-man game. Somehow.
Denver’s defense has been impressive in these Finals, holding Miami to a 111.1 offensive rating through three games (for comparison, that is 7.2 below their offensive rating against Boston).
Part of the reason is that Nikola Jokić can be a better rim protector and defensive player than people give him credit for. Another key is Malone has been able to lean hard into more defensive-based lineups because the two-man game of Jamal Murray and Jokić has been all the offense the Nuggets need.
The Murray/Jokic pick-and-roll has been a masterclass in this series. In Game 3, the Denver stars ran 32 pick-and-rolls, and those plays were the foundation of each of them getting a 30-point triple-double (the first teammates to have a 30+ point triple-double in any NBA game).
“I mean, the Murray/Jokic two-man game is a pretty hard action to stop,” Haywood Highsmith said. “But we got great defensive players, got some of the great two-way players in this game, Jimmy [Butler] and Bam [Adebayo], so we’re gonna figure it out. We got a lot of different bodies we can throw at Murray as well.”
Miami may need to sell out to stop Jokić and Murray and force any other Nugget to beat them. The Heat did blitz the pick-and-roll more in the fourth quarter of Game 3, but that led to Christian Braun cuts to the basket and Denver buckets. Miami may have to live with some of that, they have to keep Murray in particular in check (it feels like Jokić will get his no matter what).
“Whatever you do, you just can’t do it all the time,” Spoelstra said of defending the Nuggets duo. “There’s no absolutes when you get to this level. It’s the highest level of competition. You’re getting the highest level of execution. Understanding what they’re trying to get to, and we try to get them out of their comfort zones as much as possible.
“The first half, they really got to that two-man action quite a bit. They were getting a lot of traction, so they didn’t need to go to any other part of their playbook.”
Miami needs to see the rest of that playbook.
2) Miami has to make shots, rebound, set defense
The best way for Miami to limit the Jokic/Murray action and the Denver offense in general is to slow the game down. Make them go against a set defense every time down. That didn’t happen enough in Game 3 — Denver was free-flowing on offense when Miami needs the game played in the mud.
For the Heat to change that dynamic two key things need to happen.
First, Miami has to make shots. It’s simplistic but it’s true. Denver isn’t going to run if they are taking the ball out of the net.
That starts with 3-pointers, because as has been noted everywhere the Heat are 6-1 when they shoot 45% or better from 3 this postseason, and unreasonably hot shooting has sustained their run to the Finals. The Heat starters were 5-of-19 (26.3%) from beyond the arc in Game 3, which is simply not good enough — Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and the role players must step up and knock down shots. However, the bigger concern in Game 3 was the Heat shooting 38.2% within eight feet of the basket. The Nuggets’ size is clearly bothering the Heat. Jimmy Butler needs to get downhill and then make the shots, Bam Adebayo has to get the floater to fall.
Second, the Heat can’t let the Nuggets win the rebounding battle by 25. Denver’s size advantage has played out in this series in many ways (including how they contested 3s in Game 3), but it is most clearly on the glass. Miami is getting one shot and they’re done, but the Nuggets grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.1% of their missed shots in Game 3, and if you give them that many second chances you will pay.
It will take gang rebounding and effort, but the Heat must be stronger on the glass.
3) Vaughn Dalzell’s betting recommendations
Over/Under: The total continues to drop from game-by-game starting at 219.5 then going from 216.5 to 214.5 and now 210.5 for Game 4. Denver and Miami have struggled with consistency when it comes to scoring, Miami a little more than Denver. The Nuggets are shooting 51% to Miami’s 41% from the field and averaging 10 more free-throw attempts per game. The pace and tempo of this series has barely changed through three games and if it wasn’t for Miami’s 38-point fourth quarter in Game 2, the Under would be 3-0 in this NBA Finals. I will keep riding the Under.
Player Props: In this series there have been four players worth betting overs; Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. On the other hand, there have been some very good fade prospects for unders such as Kevin Love, Max Strus, Caleb Martin, Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who are all shooting 31% or worse from the field. When betting player props in the NBA Finals, keep it simple stupid (KISS).
(Check out more from Dalzell and the team at NBC Sports Edge.)
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