The Miami Heats Secret Weapon for a Title? Zone Defense.
The odds are against the Heat in their N.B.A. finals matchup with the Denver Nuggets. But the maligned zone defense may be their secret weapon.
One of the catchiest chants in the N.B.A. is an acknowledgment of one of the games most thankless tasks: De-fense! Clap. Clap. De-fense! It rained down this week as the Miami Heat coped with the nearly impossible challenge of slowing two of the leagues most fearsome players the Denver Nuggets Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray during the N.B.A. finals in front of their home crowd.
The most exalted defensive matchups in the N.B.A. are typically one-on-one clashes, as opposing stars come face to face. But that is hard work. Really hard. Maybe you can stop an explosive scorer like Jokic or Murray for a possession or two. But every time down the floor? For 48 minutes? With an undersized roster that has endured the long grind of the postseason?
Good luck. For over 50 years, the N.B.A. refused to let teams do it any other way. It was man-to-man defense or bust. But now, teams can be more creative in how they go about trying to put the clamps on their opponents. And no team is more creative than the Heat, who play more zone defense a scheme in which defenders guard areas of the court instead of individual players than any other team in the league.