Miami Herald

Butler seeing double gives the Heat another challenge to solve

- BY ANTHONY CHIANG achiang@miamiheral­

Jimmy Butler is in his fourth season with the Heat, and he has been at the center of everything the team has done since he arrived. So it’s not often that the Heat and Butler are faced with a new challenge to solve this late into their partnershi­p.

But that’s exactly what has popped up after two straight teams consistent­ly sent double-teams at Butler.

The Dallas Mavericks started the trend in Friday’s win against the Heat, as Butler drew a second defender whenever he got near the paint. That plan helped to throw off Butler and the rest of the offense, with Butler finishing that game with just 12 points on 3-of-7 shooting from the field and one assist as the Heat lost by 25 points.

It didn’t take long for the Heat to see that type of defense again, with the New Orleans Pelicans deciding to try what worked against Butler two days before in Dallas. The Pelicans sent a doubleteam at Butler whenever he tried to post up on Sunday, but this time the Heat was a little better prepared as Butler scored a teamhigh 13 points in the second half despite the team struggling to generate efficient offense with 22 turnovers in a four-point win.

“It was better than certainly Dallas,” coach Erik Spoelstra said ahead of Tuesday night’s home game against the Boston Celtics when asked how he felt the Heat handled the double-teams against the Pelicans. “And good.

We’re going to see this a lot more and we’re just going to continue to get better at it . ... We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of his post-ups and isos, and they’ve been so efficient. Of course, teams are going to start to take that away. Already I saw progress in a matter of 24 hours.”

It’s a tactic that hasn’t been used on Butler much in recent seasons.

Butler has drawn a second defender on about 9.7 percent of his isolation possession­s this season, according to Synergy Sports. He has been double-teamed on 7.2 percent of his post-ups, where he has seen a hard double just 3.6 percent of the time.

Last regular season, Butler was double-teamed on 7.5 percent of his isolation possession­s and 6.7 percent of his post-ups.

While Heat forward Caleb Martin is somewhat surprised teams didn’t try this strategy sooner, he added that “it’s also smart not to [double Butler] because he’s such a smart player with a high IQ.”

“He’s going to make the right plays, and he’s going to know how to manipulate the double-team and he’s going to get guys in foul trouble with who is running after him,” Martin said. “He understand­s that if there’s two on him, there’s somebody open. So he just knows how to play the game. So it’s kind of a pick your poison-type thing.”

After the Mavericks doubled Butler whenever he had the ball below the free-throw line on Friday, the Heat spent part of its pregame walkthroug­h session ahead of Sunday’s matchup against the Pelicans working through different counters to the coverage only to see it again a few hours later from New Orleans’ defense.

“I think we definitely worked on how to manipulate the double-team, and I think these were two good games to really see it in action, and for us to kind of adjust,” Martin said. “We made pretty good adjustment­s in walkthroug­h and I think we’ll only get better at it, because in the second half of the season he’s only going to continue to get doubled.”

Some of those adjustment­s were on display in the second half of Sunday’s win.

Instead of setting up in the post where the Pelicans were consistent­ly doubling him, Butler instead started most of his drives from behind the three-point line to avoid the second defender and also generated a few looks around the rim by working off the ball. He also was quick to attack, getting into the paint on a few catch-and-go drives before the double-team could arrive.

“I think it’s something that we’re going to continue to see,” Heat guard Kyle Lowry said. “I mean, he’s one of the most dominant basketball players in our league, and teams aren’t going to let him play 1-on-1. But I think we made good adjustment­s. Once you start making some shots and get to your right spots, things kind of opened up a little bit.”

Improved three-point shooting from the Heat would also help combat the extra attention on Butler, with one player usually open for a threepoint­er on the back end of the double-team if the ball movement is sharp.

“If they’re doubling, they’re going to run out of guys eventually if we just get somebody to the middle and we move how we’re supposed to move, they’ll run out of guys,” Martin said. “It’s 4-on-5.”

The two teams that doubled Butler in recent days were from the Western Conference. It remains to be seen if more teams will copy that strategy and use it against the Heat moving forward, with Eastern Conference teams potentiall­y saving that look for a possible playoff matchup down the road.

But the Heat knows how it can stop it from becoming a more frequent occurrence.

“Once we beat it, they probably won’t do it anymore,” Heat guard Tyler Herro said.


Butler missed Tuesday night’s game with lower back tightness, which happened during pregame warmups. The Heat also ruled out Nikola Jovic (lower back stress reaction), Duncan Robinson (finger surgery) and Omer Yurtseven (ankle surgery). There were no other

players on the Heat’s injury report.

But the Celtics were without three starters on Tuesday.

After falling to the Magic in Orlando on Monday, the Celtics ruled out starters Jaylen Brown (right adductor injury management), Al Horford (low back stiffness) and Marcus Smart (right ankle sprain) on the second night of their back-to-back. The only regular Boston starters that were available against the Heat were Jayson Tatum and Derrick White.

The Celtics were also without Malcolm Brogdon (personal reasons) and Danilo Gallinari (left knee ACL repair).

“Today we just played normally as if everyone was playing,” Herro said Tuesday morning when asked about the possibilit­y of facing a shorthande­d Celtics team before Boston’s injury report was released. “You want to prepare for the best players and the guys that are in the lineup normally. And then if they don’t play tonight, we’ll adjust to that.”

 ?? AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiheral­ ?? In recent games, Heat forward Jimmy Butler has often been double-teamed whenever he gets near the paint.
AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiheral­ In recent games, Heat forward Jimmy Butler has often been double-teamed whenever he gets near the paint.

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