Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

Reloaded lineup can turn up defense

- By Ira Winderman

On their own, each is an elite defender. Collective­ly, they offer the Miami Heat a unique path to contention.

First there was Bam Adebayo in the 2017 NBA draft. Then Jimmy Butler in 2019 free agency. Followed by Andre Iguodala at the 2020 trading deadline. And now, in the past month, Trevor Ariza and Victor Oladipo at this season’s deadline.

Each is capable of handling their own assignment. More significan­tly, all have each other’s backs.

“It’s probably the first time we have guys who can guard so many positions and do so

many different things defensivel­y, that we can make it tough for teams,” Oladipo said as the Heat turned their attention to Tuesday night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies at AmericanAi­rlines Arena.

To Oladipo, it lifts elite defenders to even higher ground.

“I think the biggest thing is you can just let it all hang out defensivel­y,” he said. “And when I say that, you could really, really go at your guy, knowing that you have guys behind you that can help, knowing that you have guys behind you that can switch, guys behind you that can rotate.

“It’s so many entities in our defense that make it tough for guys. So I think that’s why it’s special and can be very special.”

The Heat have spent most of the season alternatin­g coverages, which allowed Erik Spoelstra to mask defensive deficienci­es, making it easier to play the likes of Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson or Goran Dragic at crunch time.

Now there can be a defensive “death” lineup, with Adebayo, Ariza, Iguodala, Olad

ipo and Butler.

But Spoelstra said what won’t change, what can’t change, is the effort that predated the arrivals of Ariza and Oladipo, effort that already had the Heat defense trending toward the top of the league.

“I would probably use the word ‘activity,’ “Spoelstra said. “We’re not going to dial that back, at all. We want the multiple efforts. We want the disruptive­ness. We want guys to be extremely active.

“We’re at our best when we’re disrupting teams out of what they want to do. And part of that is speeding them up, or getting them out of their comfort zone, letting our guys make plays.”

Often, that activity had left the Heat at the whims of opposing 3-point shooters. But Spoelstra said that has been trending in a positive direction — to a degree.

“This is a different defensive system, much different, from a system we were using three years ago,” he said of the reinventio­n. “And I think for the last two or three months, we’ve been defending the 3-point line more efficientl­y, in a league where everybody’s trying to figure it out.

“It’s not like anybody has the solution for that. It’s challengin­g, with the skill and shooting and spacing. All of that on a consistent basis, night in and night out, makes it tough for defenses, regardless of what your system is.”

Iguodala, who knows plenty about switching and defending from his championsh­ip Golden State Warriors years, is intrigued.

“We have more so a defensive presence, with the guys we have that are switchable,” he said. “You talk about Trevor, who’s been on championsh­ip teams, been on teams in championsh­ip contention. He did a lot of those things with the Lakers, that strong team, and the Houston team that took us seven games when I was with the Warriors.

“I think it’s all a blessing for us.”

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