Game 20 Preview: Heat vs. Blazers

 

Game Time:  7:00 P.M. Pacific  TV:  KGW

Once upon a time, not so long ago, the Miami Heat were doing quite well.  They started the season 6-1 and it looked like the old Heat were back.  Then a couple things happened.

1.  They started playing a better caliber of opponent.

2.  The league remembered Dwyane Wade wasn't hobbled anymore and started defending accordingly.

With opponents routinely topping 100 and Wade's field goal percentage free-falling towards the Mendoza Line, the Heat have lost 6 of their last 9, including two straight at home immediately preceding tonight's contest.  Right before that, though, they beat the Hornets and the Magic, the latter on the road.  So it's not like they're crashing and burning.  More like correcting after having put a tire in the ditch.

When you think of Wade you tend to think of a guy streaking down the court, making impossible moves, and earning easy buckets and fouls.  The general impression is of a fast break team.  The Heat are not that for sure.  They score less than 10 fast break points per game.  They generate few possessions.  They've been playing methodical ball, one of the reasons Wade has had trouble scoring and their overall average has gone down.  They are trying to speed up again but it remains to be seen whether they can sustain it.

You have to remember two things about the Heat.  Everybody on this team rebounds on both ends.  You have to box out and keep track of your guy.  If you're employing a zone defense you'd better charge the boards hard on a shot.  It's not like you can't secure a rebound against them, you just can't get lazy.  You also have to remember that anybody who's not a center for them will take a three-point shot without shame.  Some of them should have more shame probably, but they'll take it anyway.  Recently the Blazers have been playing teams that like to get inside.  The Heat are perfectly happy if you let them have the jumper unopposed.  The big men will have to patrol the lane with less help tonight.  Either that or the perimeter defenders will have to be a lot quicker getting back to their men than they have been when they help.  Woe be unto you if you botch up the pick and roll or pick and pop defense too.  They're not the best in the league at screening but they can score in multiple ways when they throw one.

Outside of D. Wade the Heat rely on a starting frontcourt of young Michael Beasley and old Jermaine O'Neal.  Beasley has been up and down but lately it's been mostly up, particularly in the rebounding department.  He can score a ton when he gets in the groove.  O'Neal has scored fairly steadily after a rocky first couple weeks and his rebounding has rocketed to the moon in the last three games.  Both of these guys are athletic and are coming to play.  The Blazer bigs won't be able to relax until they get into the much-less-formidable second unit.  Speaking of formidable, young Mario Chalmers has had a decent season.  He's blasted opponents from the field and foul line a couple of times and had a few nice assist games.  He's not consistent yet but he's another guy you really have to watch if he gets rolling because he will kill you.  Quentin Richardson had been starting at small forward before experiencing back spasms.  He was doing well early but has missed much of the season.  He's back now but has not regained his starting role.  Former Blazer James Jones starts in his place.  I've just named pretty much every player in the Heat rotation.  They play their starters huge minutes and rely on their bench very little.  Portland's reserve players will need to prepare for the other team's first line tonight.

Pivotal Points of the Game

1.  The Heat want to pick up the tempo.  We should accommodate them.  They've had middling success with it so far.  They also play long minutes.  By the end of the game pushing the ball up may pay greater dividends for us than it does for them.

2.  Whether they want to run or play slow they need to rebound.  We need to rebound better.

3.  Trying to get one of their big guys in foul trouble is a good idea.  Whether it's Oden against O'Neal or Aldridge against Beasley, give it to them and let them try to wear the opponent out.  Udonis Haslem is a good player but he won't score like Beasley.  Jamaal Magloire is Jamaal Magloire.  Press the issue.

4.  The Blazers have had decent success stopping the opponent's star scorer this year, as in the New Orleans win with Chris Paul or the first Memphis game with Rudy Gay.  The last couple of games they've utterly failed in this task, as in the Utah loss against Boozer and Williams or the second Memphis game with Rudy Gay.  I'm not sure they stop Wade but they should keep him from running and risk other people scoring in order to keep him from going for 40.  If the Heat are going to have a problem tonight it will likely involve point generation.

5.  Miami doesn't have great shot blockers.  Drive.

6.  Despite what I said earlier...Fear Shavlik!

Final Thoughts and Links

This is a fairly important game for both teams as far as flow goes.  Each needs to reverse its current direction.  It'll be interesting to see how hard each squad fights to make that happen.  The Blazers had better come out with more energy at least.  They have a long-ish rest after this contest.  There's no reason to hold back.

Check out the Heat story at PeninsulaisMightier.

December begins the battle for a new jersey!  The form for the first game is here.  Don't forget that if Greg Oden or Joel Przybilla hits a three somebody's winning a jersey on the spot!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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