The 23-10 Miami Heat are coming to town tonight in a game televised on TNT and starting at 7:30 p.m.
So let's get this out of the way at the top. Some things in life are self-evident:
- Pulaski > Crusher
- Kim > All other Kardashians combined
- 2012-13 Miami Heat > 2012-13 Portland Trail Blazers
Granted, the Heat are only 7-7 on the road and they've lost 2 of their last 3 games. But really, seriously, if Miami so chooses they can take over this game and pocket a victory against a less-talented, less-experienced Portland squad. All it would take is the nearly-unstoppable LeBron James bringing his "A" game and the rest of the floor would open up farther than the Blazers could ever close.
But that doesn't happen every night. Oh, the Heat are going to field the leading scorer in this game somehow. They've failed to do so only three times this season. Two of those three opposing leading scorers were Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. Somebody for Miami is going to go on a scoring spree. But LeBron doesn't always bring his best game. D-Wade doesn't always hit his 21 ppg average. Things don't always go right for the Heat. For purposes of having a preview beyond, "The Blazers lose", let's assume Miami will leave the door open a crack tonight. If they do, the enthusiastic, 12-4-at-home Trail Blazers are more than capable of busting through it.
Superstar talent is Miami's calling card, obviously. James is averaging over 26 per game this year. That increases to approximately 92 billion vs. the Blazers. Wade adds his 21. Both of them rebound, pass, create steals. Holding them down is like picking up six tons of Jell-o out of the bathtub. You might have a handle on it for a minute, but just wait.
Chris Bosh is averaging 18 per game, occasionally coming up with a big night.
But the interesting factor for the Blazers will be the rest of the Miami roster. Portland can probably take or leave Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem, who round out the starting lineup. But Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mike Miller...all of these guys know how to play and all have burned the Blazers at some point in the past. The Blazers might be forced to play their starters big minutes to avoid getting pummeled. It's less that the Portland bench is incapable, more that they're inexperienced. One tiny mistake against Allen, Miller, or Battier and you are eating a three, guaranteed. The Blazers reserves, for all their enthusiasm and willingness to stick to it, make tons of little mistakes. The only thing worse than LeBron scoring 35 is LeBron scoring 35 when the Heat are already ahead of you.
The good news for Portland is that Miami has neither punishing bigs nor enough backcourt players to expose Damian Lillard on defense. Lillard and J.J. Hickson should be free to have good nights. Portland's middle three players will have to come up big...Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews on defense, LaMarcus Aldridge on offense. if Aldridge and Lillard can keep Miami's defense on their heels this game looks far more winnable. If Portland struggles on offense then Matthews and Batum will have to put in superhuman efforts and the Blazers as a whole will be forced to turn the game ugly. Portland has won ugly contests, but that's not their style.
The Blazers will be going up against one of the most efficient offenses in the league tonight. Mostly the credit goes to You-Know-Who and You-Know-Who2. Wade shoots 51% from the field, James an astounding 54%. But in the midst of hitting all those shots they're also creating open looks for teammates. Other notable percentages from heat players: Bosh 55% from the field, Allen 48% from the floor and 45% from distance, Battier 39% from the arc, Miller 42% from the arc. The Heat lead the league in field goal percentage at 48%. On the one hand that's scary for the Blazers, as they normally allow high percentages from the field. On the other hand, how much room is there above 48% anyway? Are they going to shoot 70%? If the Heat shoot 50% tonight that could be considered a success of sorts for Portland.
The bigger danger could be Miami's almost-league-leading 39% clip from the three-point arc, compensating for an advantage the Blazers need and forcing Portland to decide between double-teaming superstars and covering wing-bound marksmen. Foul trouble against said superstars could also be an issue. Miami doesn't draw a huge number of foul shots relative to their notoriety. How many fouls does it take on Batum or Matthews before Portland is putting Will Barton and Luke Babbitt on Wade and James, though?
On the upside, Miami is a poor rebounding team. The Blazers should be able to press an advantage, perhaps running with it, on the boards.
The Heat are so-so defensively, down the middle in most ways. Their biggest attributes are experience and the wisdom to know when to bear down. They can defend, they just don't always. Almost all their losses this season have come with the opponent scoring 104 or more. The exceptions would be their last two defeats, in which they scored only 89 and 77 points themselves. Those came against good defensive teams in Indiana and Chicago, though. Suffice it to say that if you can break Miami's defense you also break through their aura of invulnerability. Realistically, though, that doesn't happen too often.
We talked about Miami's prowess at the outset. We'll finish with what this game could mean to the Blazers. Having won 5 of their last 6, sporting a 12-4 home record, and carrying wins over some pretty good teams slung over their belt, the Blazers have to feel they have a shot tonight. The question is, will they play like it? We've seen Portland hit the floor confidently, projecting swagger throughout the game. More often we've seen them play intermittently, relying on spurts to pull them though. We've also seen them approach a couple games like they had already surrendered them. Which Blazer team will we see tonight? Surrender and spurts will be problematic, as the Heat know how to win games no matter how they're playing (obviously). The Blazers' best chance is to storm the court, take the bit out of Miami's mouth, and make this their game from the outset.
If the Blazers are looking to prove that their 19-15 record is legit, if they're serious about making a public statement about a possible playoff run, if they want some national recognition for what's going on in the Pacific Northwest, this would be a heck of a way to achieve all three. For better or worse the league doesn't judge you for what you did in Minnesota with Kevin Love out. Win this game and people start thinking you could be for real.
This game is also a personal challenge for Portland's best players. Damian Lillard loves the national stage and J.J. Hickson could have a field day tonight. More importantly, though, can LaMarcus Aldridge score or facilitate enough points to look like a true star among the league's elite? (Provided, of course, his wrist allows him to play.) All-Stars are made from outings like this. How much more so for Nicolas Batum? If he wants to show that he's worthy of the consideration given the best players, he could get exactly that by facing up to LeBron and Wade on defense tonight. So, too, Wesley Matthews. People say this starting lineup is "good" and "strong". Do they mean "good and strong for Portland" or are the terms more absolute? This is when we find out.
The Blazers don't have to win this game but they do need to put in a good showing. And if they do happen to walk through that door that Miami just might leave open? Wow. What a nice boost that would be.
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