In the NBA’s point/counterpoint of trying to get points, the standings at the moment are: Opponents 2, Jimmy Butler 1.
As in, since Friday night’s blowout road loss to the Dallas Mavericks, when Butler has gotten the ball, the Heat’s starting forward has been seeing a steady stream of double teams, something that also was the case in Sunday’s home victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
“I think it’s something that we’re going to continue to see,” point guard Kyle Lowry said, with the Heat on Tuesday night hosting the Boston Celtics. “I mean, he’s one of the most dominant basketball players in our league and teams aren’t going to let him play one-on-one.”
So it has been back to school for Butler and the Heat, with opposing NBA coaches continuing to offer defensive wrinkles through the 82-game marathon.
“I think we can continue to work at it,” guard Tyler Herro said. “It’s something that we’re going to see a lot now, so we have to make adjustments to it.
“We prepared for it a little [Sunday]. We’ll continue to get our reps, and ultimately by the playoffs we want to have something that we can go to and feel comfortable with.”
By then, the approach could well change again. But at the moment, it is a tactic that has required counters.
“I mean,” Herro said, “that’s what everybody does. If you see something that works, probably do it until it works, and once we beat it, they probably won’t do it anymore.”
The double teams of Butler come in the wake of opponents previously throwing double teams at Herro amid his early-season scoring breakouts. Opponents also have been crowding center Bam Adebayo more often in the post.
The common thread to the approaches has been almost a disrespect for the Heat’s supporting players, be it Lowry and Caleb Martin in the starting lineup or some of the inconsistent reserves, with the Heat arguably getting less from their complementary players than in recent seasons.
“But I think we’ve made good adjustments,” Lowry said. “And once you start making some shots and getting to your right spots, things kind of open up.”
With the Heat, it has become a case of if they make their shots, which hardly has been the case for a team at the bottom of the league’s shooting percentages.
“We’re going to see this a lot more and we’re just going to continue to get better at it,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Anytime we can get two on the ball in whatever scenario, we spent a great deal of time early in the season trying to find a way where we could be more efficient with two on the ball when Tyler was handling and they were trapping him. We’re much improved from where we were last year on that.”
But Adebayo said that is not good enough, that allowing opponents to get the ball out of Butler’s hands is a win for the opposition.
“Knowing J.B,’s going to get doubled, everybody’s got to be on red alert,” Adebayo said. “And we got to find a way to get him easy buckets. If they’re going to double him or before they start the double, just put him in the situations where he can get easy baskets.
“In transition, I feel like it’s hard to double somebody in transition. So finding him in transition and letting him do his stuff, that’s the biggest thing for us.”
When it comes to opponents squeezing Adebayo in the post with a second defender, the Heat’s versatile center said he has no trouble reverting to his previous approach and getting off the ball.
“I mean, one thing about it, I can pass,” Adebayo said. “So it’s like not going to change who I am. If my teammates are going to hit the shot, they’re wide open, I’m going to throw it. I feel like that’s just a bad coverage. And we’ve got shooters.”
Again, if the Heat are making shots.
For now, Spoelstra is embracing the challenges of deciphering opponents arriving in waves.
“The pocket pass to Bam, teams are trying to take away that with a third defender. That’s going to now allow him to be more of a playmaker and who he was, and find open shots for other guys,” Spoelstra said.
“And then same thing with Jimmy. We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of his post-ups and isos. And they’ve been so efficient that of course teams are going to start to take that away. Already, I saw progress.”