Attacking the Miami Heat trap

I finally caught the condensed replay of the Bulls Heat game from Jan 4 on my DVR.

With a lot of fast, active defenders, especially Lebron, the Heat love to attack the primary ballhandler with double teams. Recall the first time they played Jeremy Lin last season and how they unleashed a barrage of double teams high and forced him into a ton of turnovers.

The Bulls, surprisingly, won this game, and I noticed a few things that might point the way for future success against the Heat, whether it's the Bulls or another team. You can follow along with the two examples below in this highlight reel.

At 0:16, you see the Heat trapping on the strongside against the sideline with Lebron and Udonis Haslem. This is an example of a case where the Heat's attack succeeded in forcing the turnover and triggering the Heat's fast break, where they are nearly unstoppable.

One way to succeed against that trap which the Heat often employ is a tactic the Bulls used a few times in this game. First, you have to be able to recognize it as a team. The man whose defender has left can move to an open spot near the top of the circle or the high post to serve as a safety release for the ballhandler. If you get the ball to that player quickly, the defender can't recover in time to mitigate your man advantage, and another defender will have to rotate to try to protect the basket. Then the player that rotating defender was covering can cut to the basket, and if you hit him with a pass it's often an easy dunk or layup. Easier said than done, but the Bulls pulled it off several times in this game with Joakim Noah when he was setting the pick on the pick and roll.

You can see one example in this clip at 2:04. Bosh and Wade show a soft double team on Hinrich, and Noah sneaks away towards the basket to take the release pass, then turns towards the basket, at which point the zone defender on Boozer cuts towards Noah. In that instant, Noah quickly hits Boozer for a layup. It's easier said than done, but Noah, who's having a great year, is an ideal big man to be the hub of such an attack because of his passing ability and increased willingness to attack the basket this season. I saw this happen a few times in this game, but this is the only example I could find in this highlight clip. The Bulls ballhandler would be trapped up high, above the 3-point circle, they'd quickly advance the ball to the next level towards the basket, somewhere along the top of the key or free throw line, then that ballhandler would feign an attack to the basket and then drop the ball down behind the defense near the basket for the easy bucket.

The other option, of course, is to conclude that attack not with a pass to a big man cutting to the hoop but to swing it to a 3-point shooter in the corner when their defender rotates to defend the basket. The Bulls have a shortage of 3-point shooters this season so it's not surprising they usually opted to go to Gibson and Boozer on backdoor cuts instead.

Where the Heat are deadly is when they can attack the ballhandler without a double team, and they almost always do that when times get tough with Lebron, whom they unleashed on Derrick Rose the last time the two teams met in the playoffs. Also, it's worth noting that the Heat don't seem to be exerting themselves as hard as they can on defense right now. They're certain to ratchet it up in the playoffs, and all of the above is standard playbook fare against the overplay. Still, it's odd to see it working so well in the regular season.