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Heat sating defensive hunger with portion-controlled diet of zone

MIAMI — It is the comfort food for the Miami Heat when a steady diet of man-to-man doesn’t sate Erik Spoelstra’s defensive hunger. So, yes, the zone has been back in recent games in far larger portions.

“It’ll vary game to game, where we need to adjust our schemes,” Spoelstra said, with the Heat hosting the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday night at Kaseya Center. “It’s really about the activity level, making it tough on other teams, getting them out of their comfort zone.”

The change of pace proved critical in the victories over the Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards that snapped the Heat’s seven-game losing streak.

“Just to give people the out of the ordinary,” center Bam Adebayo said of the changeup. “NBA offense, you’ve got to run something different. For us, it’s the zone.”

Guard Tyler Herro said the shake up, when accompanied by the proper vigor, can leave opponents shook.

“Really just being disruptive, and it takes them out of their offense,” Herro said. “The zone forces them to take shots that we want them to take, which is those long paint twos, long twos.”

That the zone became an antidote to the losing streak was a matter of the Heat having to dig deeper.

“Any of our schemes defensively, they’re in our toolkit, we’ll use them however we feel we need to,” Spoelstra said. “It depends on the game, it depends on the moment. It depends on the context.”

The latest challenge is working newcomer Terry Rozier into a zone approach already in progress.

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“We have enough guys in our system that understand what we’re trying to do,” Spoelstra said. “I think more than anything, it’s not the schematics. It still comes down to committing and doing tough things in this league.

“And it is hard and challenging to defend these modern-day offenses, and that’s the deal. Whoever can commit to that, roll up your sleeves collectively and do tough things, that’s more important than thinking a scheme will save you. You have to burn calories, no matter what, to get teams and these very talented players to miss. And you have to try to make them miss. You can’t just hope that they’re going to miss.”

Hampton’s night

Guard RJ Hampton, the lone Heat player currently on G League assignment with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, had a season-high 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting, eight assists and six rebounds in a dramatic 157-156 victory Saturday night over the G League affiliate of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Skyforce allowed 91 first-half points and overcame a 23-point fourth-quarter deficit for the victory, winning on a 3-pointer from former Heat prospect Jamaree Bouyea with six-tenths of a second remaining, in the highest-scoring game in franchise history.

Heat camp prospect Alondes Williams scored 39 points in the victory over an Iowa Wolves team featuring former NBA guard Lance Stephenson.

The Love factor

Among Spoelstra’s priorities through all of the team’s injuries has been keeping Kevin Love in a stable minutes range.

“I think if we keep him where he is, he could do this role forever,” Spoelstra said of the 35-year-old big man who went into Sunday averaging 17.9 minutes per game, primarily as backup center to Adebayo. “And he’s really embraced it and he’s excelling at that role.”

Love’s low for a full season was his 20-minute average last season.

Love has proven a prime example of playing within your means, with Spoelstra careful not to overextend.

Love had been uneven initially in his return from a knee contusion, but again has found his rhythm.

“Right before he got injured,” Spoelstra said, “he was a massive impact on the game, particularly offensively, and just really helped set the stage for all of our guys.”