On Wednesday night, the Miami Heat will embark on the final leg of their long journey to complete one of the most improbable title runs in recent NBA history. They will face off against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals after beating the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Boston Celtics to get there.
The Celtics presented the biggest challenge to Miami over the course of this playoffs, going up big multiple times before ultimately losing the series in six games. One of the big reasons the Heat were able to take down a more talented Boston squad was their ability to execute a zone defense. They're a good man-to-man team, but proved in the Eastern Conference Finals they were also a great zone team. That begs the natural question: how often can the Heat get away with playing zone against the Lakers?
Miami likes to use zone defense because it hides the weaknesses in its defensive lineups. In the Heat's starting five, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Jae Crowder are all plus defenders. But Goran Dragic and Duncan Robinson are not. Not when faced with a one-on-one situation, anyway. But by playing a 2-3 zone, Miami can hide Dragic Robinson and Tyler Herro when he comes in on the back line. It limits their responsibilities and significantly lessens the amount of time those defenders spend scrambling around in a pick-and-roll.
This is especially important to note because LeBron James absolutely loves to use the pick-and-roll to force switches, then attack the weakest link in the opposing lineup. No matter who they trot out, the Heat will have at least one average-at-best man-to-man defender out there at all times, and LeBron will be doing his damnedest to make that defender work.