It was certainly a quote that caught attention around the NBA. After the Miami Heat picked apart the Mavericks on Tuesday night with a 125-110 road win, the fifth straight for the retooled roster, Mavericks coach Jason Kidd had unabashed praise for the Heat.
“The Heat are, I would consider them the best team in the league right now,” Kidd said. “They’re men and they know how to play.”
And while the offense has been impressive, with a rating of 114.3 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com/Stats, second in the league, it has been the defense that has anchored this team so far. The stats bear that out.
Consider the numbers:
- The Heat rate No. 1 in the NBA in field-goal percentage allowed, at 39.7%.
- The Heat are No. 1 in defensive rating, at 97.9 points per 100 possessions.
- The Heat rank tops in defensive rebound percentage, at 78.9%.
- The Heat are No. 1 in field-goal percentage differential—a measure of how players shoot vs. Miami’s defense in relation to other defenses. Teams shoot 4.7% worse against Miami than everyone else.
- The Heat lead the league in net rating, the difference between their offensive and defensive ratings, at 16.7.
New Additions Lowry, Tucker Key Heat’s New-Look D
The defense has gotten a big boost from some of the Heat’s new guys, especially starters Kyle Lowry at point guard and P.J. Tucker at power forward. Lowry has had an individual defensive rating of 94.2 points per 100 possessions this year, and Tucker’s has been 95.3.
Lowry’s rating is 11th among all players with at least 20 minutes of playing time. Center Bam Adebayo, who will surely be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, ranks sixth, at 91.5.
Lowry has represented a big upgrade defensively at point guard. Though he is not tall (he’s 6-feet), Lowry is known for his bulldog strength and toughness, which was lacking in last year’s point-guard combo (Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn).
Similarly, Tucker has solidified the power forward spot, which was mostly a scramble for the Heat last year. Tucker’s offense has evaporated in recent years—he is shooting a mere 39.4% from the field this season, averaging 5.1 points—but that matters little as long as he keeps playing high-level defense.
The big thing for the Heat: The strength and intelligence of Lowry and Tucker mean that Miami can switch off screens whenever coach Erik Spoelstra sees fit.
“I can be on Kevin Durant and Bam will switch, and I’m like cool,” Tucker said, according to the Miami Herald. “Jimmy will switch, I’m like cool. Kyle will switch, it’s like cool. We’re not tripping. I know what those guys are going to do. They’re going to play hard, they’re going to give everything they got. Whether they score or not, do it again the next possession and we can talk to each other. Bam can say whatever to me, I can say whatever to him and then we can yell at each other, and then go out there and we’re going to play and it’s done.”
Shaq Has Praise for the Miami Heat
Kidd is not exactly the only one who has noticed what the Heat have been doing lately. He was not as exuberant in his praise as Kidd, but former Heat center Shaquille O’Neal acknowledged this team has the capability to be special—at least good enough to finish in the Top 4 of the Eastern Conference.
O’Neal, speaking on TNT, also mentioned the addition of veteran forward Markieff Morris and the impending return of Victor Oladipo.
“You bring in two players that have championship mentalities and championships in Lowry and P.J. Tucker. And you bring in Markieff Morris and Victor Oladipo,” O’Neal said, per the Sun-Sentinel. “We all love the culture of Miami and how they play and how they win. I think they will have homecourt advantage in the first round.”