The Miami Heat had to cut through their defensive concerns, sharpen their defense, so they turned to a Swiss Army knife.
With the shift of Jae Crowder into the starting lineup, the Heat not only offset the loss of Meyers Leonard's 3-point shooting with Crowder's proficiency from beyond the arc, but also made it easier to defensively switch just about any pick-and-roll.
"Jae's so versatile. He's really like a Swiss Army knife for us, and he's been that ever since we got him," guard Duncan Robinson said. "His versatility on offense and on defense, the ability to switch multiple positions and muck things up defensively and also dribble, pass and shoot on offense, he's an incredibly unselfish player."
With Leonard previously opening at center, the Heat were limited in their defensive variety. With Crowder in the first five, it presents the possibility to mix and match across the entire frontcourt of Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler and Crowder, and, to a degree, also with Robinson and Kendrick Nunn.
It is an approach the Golden State Warriors rode to three NBA titles and one that has become a preference of many of the league's leading defenses.
"We can switch a lot with that group of guys that we have on the floor," Butler said of the starting lineup rolled out for Saturday's 125-105 victory over the Denver Nuggets, in the first of the Heat's eight seeding games at the NBA's Disney World quarantine setting. "I think with Meyers out there, too, we're still a really, really, really good team. Coach made a call. We talked about it. Who knows what we'll have moving forward?
"But right now, I think that's what we're going with. I trust Coach. I trust Jae. And I trust Meyers. [Leonard] took it really, really well and I think he's in a position that he still wants to help us win."
The Heat entered the restart as a middle-of-the-pack defense. But that season-long standing largely was built before Crowder and Andre Iguodala arrived at the Feb. 8 NBA trading deadline, just over a month before the league's March 11 shutdown due to the new coronavirus pandemic.
Now there is the "switchability" of not only Adebayo, Crowder and Butler in the first unit, but also Iguodala and Derrick Jones Jr. in the second unit. At times Saturday, that had Butler and Crowder defending Nuggets center Nikola Jokic.
"I feel like me, Jimmy and Jae Crowder switching, it becomes a hassle for the offensive team," Adebayo said. "We've just got to keep emphasizing that, and get stops."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra typically mixes his defenses, with the team's zone approach likely to also be worked into the resumption mix.
"Just when you think that this will be the way that it's going to be, we may have to pivot based on matchups or the competition," said Spoelstra, who got the bonus of Crowder's 3-of-4 3-point shooting against the Nuggets.
As the Heat moved on from the rout of the Nuggets and turned their attention to Monday's 1:30 p.m. game against the Toronto Raptors at the Wide World of Sports complex, Spoelstra appears set on exploring the possibilities of his latest lineup.
“For this game and likely the next two, we felt like this would be the best way to go,” he said, with the Raptors matchup opening a back-to-back set that concludes Tuesday against the Boston Celtics, the Heat’s final back-to-back of the season.
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