When the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks hit the court tonight, it may just come down to pace. It seems that whoever will be able to control the pace, could win the game. Erik Spoelstra, coach of the Heat, recently stated that he's unsatisfied with the "spacing and pacing" lately. And it's true that Miami is a better team when they're running. In their 20 highest-paced games, the Heat own a record of 17-3, "only" 18-10 in the other ones. On the contrary, the Mavs own a 9-11 record in their 20 highest-paced games, and 20-11 in the others. So you could basically say that, record-wise, the Heat and the Mavs are on the same level when the game slows down.
It's not that the Heat are a terrible team in the halfcourt (they actually rank 5th in halfcourt offense), but they're just that deadly in transition. They score a league-high 133.30 Points Per 100 Fastbreak Possessions and outscore opponents by 17.06 Points P100, which also leads the league. The Mavericks meanwhile defend well in transition (10th), but rank 20th in fastbreak offense, effectively getting slightly outscored (-0.11 PP100).
More on the reasons after the jump.
Digging deeper it gets pretty obvious why the Mavs are among the worse teams in transition. They take their average shot from 11.39 feet (27th), while the Heat jack up their shots from only 8.23 feet away from the basket. That's more than three feet, which is a lot. The Mavs shoot much more threes in transition (22.86 P100, ranks 4th) and can't convert them at a decent rate, especially one player that takes a lot of them. Jason Terry (34.62%) and Dirk Nowitzki (47.06%) take more transition long bombs than the other teammates combined. While Dirk has been able to knock them down, Terry has not. The reason is simple: Terry too often leads the one-man fastbreak and pulls up, the vast majority of Dirk's shots are assisted (87.04%). Generally the decision making and passing ability of the Mavs guards is somewhat puzzling: Rodrigue Beaubois and Delonte West complete the four players of the Mavs with the highest usage rates in transition, yet they rank 6th (Roddy), 8th (West) and 9th (Terry) in eFG% on the team.
Roddy's stats are highly affected by his inability of finding his touch from long range. He is 33-of-50 on 2FG attempts and takes them from 3.51 feet, which is really decent. West (6.18 feet) and especially Terry (10.20 feet) settle for the jumper too often. I regularly get frustrated with Jason Terry when he runs a 1-on-3 break and takes his usual pull-up jumper from 16+ feet or beyond the arc. People seem to defend this because its "his" shot, pretending it's a high percentage one. But it really is not. The league average eFG% in transition is 60.00% and 61.91% for 2FGs. Jason Terry shoots 54.10% eFG in transition, only 55.71% on his two-point attempts, so he does not take high quality shots for a transition possession.
To fix these issues, Jason Terry simply shouldn't lead the break. Delonte West and Jason Kidd are more willing passers and will find Dirk or the other bigs running the floor. Roddy should pass a lot more, but is a potent scorer in these situations outside the three-ball, so either one of them handling the rock is just fine.
Miami's fastbreak machine is well-tuned. First of all, the guy with the highest usage rate in transition (40.37%), LeBron James, shoots the highest percentage (77.90%). Additionally, from the four guys that shoot the most threes in transition (James Jones, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier - in descending order), everybody is above the league average of 60.00% eFG, starting with Chalmers at 62.71%. Also 34 of 35 transition threes by these four were assisted. That's how it works. Get it to the rim (nobody on the Heat roster except Jones, who shot one (!) two-pointer in transition, takes a 2FG attempt from an average above 7 feet) or pass to the open man beyond the arc.
Like I said, the Mavs are not bad in defending the break, but they certainly won't be able to outscore the Heat on such possessions. That's why they simply should avoid giving up too many attempts to the Heat tonight and try to slow the game down that way. It will be interesting how Carlisle will use Roddy, because the Frenchman is one of the better fastbreak defenders (leads the team in transition blocks and steals P100), but also led the team with ten turnovers over the last five games, which is not exactly a testimonial for a game in which you want to keep those at a minimum.
Anyhow, the Mavs have a much bigger chance to win if they will be able to keep the pace down.