Defense wins championships. As great as the Miami Heat’s shotmaking was in Game 5, it wasn’t Green’s missed three or Morris’ panicked pass that cost the Los Angeles Lakers the win. It was their sloppy and unfocused defense.
The good news is Frank Vogel will have a plethora of video examples to show the Lakers’ players what really cost them the chance to win Game 5 and what they need to do to make sure they win Game 6 and the NBA championship. Shutting down the Miami Heat on defense means shutting down their three top scorers: Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson, and Tyler Herro. That can be done by making smart tactical decisions and being relentless on defense.
Here are the four defensive keys the Los Angeles Lakers should deploy to shut down Butler, Robinson, and Herro, stifle the Miami Heat offense, win Game 6 of the NBA Finals, and bring home their 17th championship:
1. Start Markieff Morris Instead of Dwight Howard.
The playoffs are about matchups and the advanced lineup stats clearly show the Lakers are a better team in this series with Anthony Davis and Markieff Morris as the front court rather than Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard. When Markieff Morris plays with Anthony Davis, the Lakers have a team best defensive rating of 98.5. Conversely, when Dwight Howard plays with Anthony Davis, that defensive rating soars to a team worst 126.3.
The first defensive key to shutting down the Miami Heat in Game 6 is to start power forward Markieff Morris instead of center Dwight Howard to give the Lakers a quicker, faster, and more mobile and athletic lineup.
2. Double Jimmy Butler To Get Ball Oct of His Hands.
After Jimmy Butler scored 40 points and the Heat won Game 3, Frank Vogel adjusted, AD shut down Jimmy, and the Lakers won Game 4. Then Erik Spoelstra adjusted, Jimmy went off again for 35, and the Heat won Game 6. Now the ball is back in Frank Vogel’s court and he needs to do what he did to Damian Lillard, James Harden, and Jamal Murray, which is blitz and trap Jimmy Butler off screens and force him to give up the basketball.
The second defensive key to beat Miami is not allowing Butler to beat them. A monster game from Jimmy is the only way the Heat can win. This also allows AD to defend Bam, protect the rim, and be fresh to close the game.
3. Switch Screens to Stop Robinson and Herro Threes.
The Lakers need to switch when the Heat set screens for Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro rather than trying to fight through or go around the screens as they leave themselves vulnerable to quick threes and unavoidable fouls. The smarter strategy is for the defender guarding the screen to hedge the screen to keep Robinson and Herro from getting open to take those threes. Not switching is tantamount to going under screens for these two players.
The third defensive key to stopping the Heat is preventing the easy threes and 3-point fouls that happen when we trail Robinson and Herro around screens by instead switching and hedging to limit their attempts from deep.
4. Play Defense For All 24 Seconds Each Possession.
There must have been a half dozen times in Friday night’s game when the Lakers played great defense for 20 to 22 seconds only to lose focus with a couple of seconds left on the 24-second clock to give the Heat a good shot. Call it overconfidence or disrespecting the Heat’s ability to beat them but the Lakers need to clean up their attention to detail and follow the golden rule of playing defense: one eye on the ball and the other on your man.
The fourth defensive key to winning Game 6 and the NBA championship is to play defense for the entire 24 seconds of each possession. That means no last minute missed rotations, free cutters, open shots, or offensive rebounds.
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