Despite limited size, Miami Heat have had answer for Al Jefferson
Few teams have had as much success defending Al Jefferson as the Miami Heat did in December, when the defending champions dispatched the Jazz and held their center to 6 points on 1-of-8 shooting.
Jefferson averages a team-high 17.2 points for the Jazz, but historically struggles against the Heat, averaging 12.8 points in 16 career games.
With the LeBron James-led Heat in Utah Monday for a 7 p.m. tipoff against the Jazz, Jefferson will need to find a way to combat the Heat if they have any chance of beating Miami for the third time in their last four matchups at EnergySolutions Arena.
"They did a great job of fronting me," Jefferson recalled Monday morning. "When I did catch the ball they sent a double team from the baseline. They had a heck of a defensive scheme for me. I got to find a way on movement get the ball into the offense. ... I have to find the way to get it the other way. Every team is starting to do that to me now. It's just something I've got to get used to and prepare for."
While Jefferson had bad games against Indiana and Denver this season, the Heat shut him down despite an absence of traditional big men. Miami forward Chris Bosh did not play against the Jazz on Dec. 22.
"You can't be small and slow," small forward Shane Battier said. You'll get crushed. When you're smaller you just have to be more active. That game was one of our more active games, even though we were missing Chris."
Despite a small lineup that included Udonis Haslem and James as the ostensible post players, the Heat outscored the Jazz 39-38 in the post and limiting the Jazz big men - Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter - to just 31 points.
"You can't stand behind Al Jefferson," Battier said, "he'll score 40 on us. So by getting around him in the post and making his catches tough and being annoying and swarming we were able to be effective."
The key, Favors said, is "just try to find other options. Just get it out of the post quicker, probably have a little more movement."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Jefferson and Millsap are "forces" and that they put pressure on the defense, "not only to stop them, but to not foul them."
As for his team's success against Jefferson last month at AmericanAirlines Arena, Spoelstra said, "I don't know if it had to do with what we were doing. We try to play aggressively, disruptively, defensively. They were at the tail end of one of their long road trips. So I don't know if it was us that had to do with it or if he just had an off night."