Update: Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com reports on Twitter that Heat guard Dwyane Wade is "likely out" against the Blazers with an ankle injury.
The Blazers try to get the first win of their current five-game road trip tonight when they take on the Miami Heat, two nights after Portland received a 30-point thumping at the hands of the Charlotte Bobcats.
The Heat, meanwhile, have managed to drop seven of their last 11 games, the worst stretch for the team since the "Big Three" of forwards LeBron James, Chris Bosh and guard Dwyane Wade came together in South Beach almost four years ago.
Miami lost a road game to the Pelicans on Saturday night, prompting Bosh to tell reporters afterward, "We suck." The All-Star power forward was somewhat accurate when calling his team out, though to be fair, the Heat's problems don't stem from the offensive side of the ball. Over the last five games, Miami has shot efficiently inside the arc, passed the ball well and limited its own turnovers.
Their three-point shooting and overall scoring is slightly down, but the Heat don't live and die so much on their offensive success as they do on their defensive execution, which has been sorely lacking lately. In the last handful of games, Miami has given up 49.6 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent from deep. Normally a squad that forces more turnovers a game than almost every other team in the league, the Heat are now average in that category the last couple weeks. Of the 11 losses for Miami since early March, four have come against teams with below .500 records.
James unsurprisingly leads the way for the Heat offensively, attempting 17 shots a game his last four outings -- he sat out a loss to the Celtics last Wednesday -- and scoring almost 27 points a night. In that same span, James has hit 57.4 percent of his field-goals and almost 53 percent of his threes, while picking up over six assists a night. He likes to take a decent amount of pull-up jumpers, but that's not his best shot. James is exceptional at driving it to the rim off the dribble and converts almost 80 percent of his shots attempted at the hoop. He's good from just about any spot from the left side of the court, less so from the right side.
Wade sat out the Saturday night loss to the Pelicans because it was the second night of a back-to-back, but he'll likely be available tonight for Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. Playing in three of the last five games for Miami, Wade has been attacking the paint with some solid success, making more than half his field-goals. He's all but abandoned the three-point shot this season, but creates his own offense two-thirds of the time. Wade's mid-range jump-shot is dialed right now, as well.
Bosh is going through a difficult time on offense, taking over a dozen shots a night the last five contests but only connecting on 42.2 percent of them. He's taken almost five threes a game in that span, but has made only about a fifth of them. Bosh is usually a reliable outside shooter, excellent in the mid-range and even better when he ventures into the paint with the ball, but he's been slumping lately and has seen his offensive production slip.
Guard Ray Allen comes off the bench for almost a dozen shots a game, over half of them threes. Allen has found ways to score within the arc the last couple weeks, but he's hit only a third of his outside attempts in that time. In fact, at 36.7 percent shooting from deep this season, Allen is having one of his worst years from beyond the arc, a career 40 percent shooter from long-range since he came into the NBA 17 seasons ago.
Point guard Mario Chalmers either takes it to the basket or shoots threes. Most of his shots inside the arc are off the dribble, while he's mostly a catch-and-shoot scorer from deep. Chalmers has hit about 43 percent of his field-goals the last five games, but he's a huge threat from deep right now, connecting over over 42 percent of his outside shots. Backup guard Norris Cole isn't a huge part of Spoelstra's offense, but he's hit half his three-pointers recently.
The Heat's bench rotation consists of Allen, guard Toney Douglas and forwards Chris Andersen, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem. Outside of Allen, none of these players shoots more than a few times a game, though Andersen and Haslem are both efficient with the shots they do get. Center Greg Oden will likely get the start tonight in the middle, though his minutes and shot-attempts have both been very limited this season. Expect about a dozen minutes for Oden tonight.
Portland's offense was nowhere to be found Saturday night against the Bobcats, as the Blazers shot 40.5 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from deep and went 17-22 from the free-throw line. Over the last five games, Portland has played marginally better than that, making almost 45 percent of its overall shots, 37.7 percent of its threes and taking over 26 free-throw attempts and making almost 22 of them on average. The Blazers have passed well and not turned the ball over much lately, but they need to hit more of their shots and get more value from their possessions if they want to go into the playoffs strong.
Point guard Damian Lillard hasn't played efficiently with forward LaMarcus Aldridge on the bench recently, making less than 40 percent of his field-goals and 28.2 percent of his threes in those five games. Lillard has registered six assists a game and has gone to the line almost seven times a night in that span, so he is finding ways to be effective on the offensive end. Still, Lillard needs to be more efficient with his scoring if he's going to shoot almost 20 shots a night, because 7-for-19 games probably won't cut it anymore against playoff teams.
Guard Wesley Matthews made half his shots Saturday but went 1-5 from outside. He's been solid from the field and is hitting over 41 percent of his shots the last five contests, so he might be able to shrug the last game off as a fluke and resume his solid outside shooting. Forward Nicolas Batum had a rather passive performance against the Bobcats, attempting only five shots, four of them three-pointers. He needs to be more involved in the offense if the Blazers want to get wins without Aldridge, because he's been one of the best shooters on the team the last couple weeks, hitting half his shots and 48.5 percent of his threes. Batum has also managed as many assists in that time as Lillard, showing how important he is to Portland coach Terry Stotts' offense.
Starting frontcourt mates Robin Lopez and Dorell Wright have been solid with the ball the last five games, with Lopez connecting on almost 60 percent of his shots and Wright making almost half his field-goals and 38.5 percent of his long-range tries. Sixth-man Mo Williams has been equally efficient, converting 48.5 percent of his shots and half his threes in that timespan.
Due to the blowout nature of the loss in Charlotte, Stotts was able to get some extended minutes for his reserves. No one played particularly well, even in garbage time. Over the last five games, Portland's bench is only scoring 25.2 points a night, shooting 39.8 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from deep and 65 percent from the foul line. Those numbers are all near the bottom of the league. Between bigs Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver, Meyers Leonard and wings Will Barton and C.J. McCollum, only Robinson has made more than 35.3 percent of his shots the last five contests. McCollum is the best scorer from outside in those games, making just 30 percent of his three-point tries.
Portland's defense has been pretty bad with Aldridge on the sidelines, giving up over 111 points a game, 47.1 percent shooting from the field and 40.4 percent shooting from deep. The Blazers have allowed easy ball movement, haven't forced turnovers and gave up 124 points to the Bobcats, 28 points higher than their season scoring average. Aside from three-point shooting -- which they don't rely on a ton in the first place -- the Heat have performed reasonably well on offense lately. Unless Portland's own offense goes nuts tonight, the defense will have to be ratcheted up if the Blazers hope to pull off a road win in Miami.
Statistically, the Heat are the worst rebounding team in the NBA, and they've been getting killed on the glass lately. Haslem, Andersen and Oden are very effective on the boards, though they all play limited minutes for Spoelstra. Bosh and James are both solid rebounders, but Robinson and Batum are both better by rebounding percentage. Wright has also gotten involved with the rebounding lately, a solid development for a guy who hasn't really done so all season until being placed into the starting lineup at power forward. The Blazers have the personnel and talent to win the rebounding battle tonight, but they got destroyed on the boards Saturday by the Bobcats. If that kind of effort is put forth tonight, even Miami will be able to outdo Portland on the glass.
The Pelicans took out the Heat Saturday night by forcing turnovers and getting out on the break. If the Blazers can do those two things to a reeling Miami team, they could also put themselves in a position to win. Still, the Heat's offense is running pretty efficiently right now, even considering their struggles to win games. Portland's defense will have to show up tonight, because the offense -- although high-scoring -- hasn't been able to consistently carry the team the last few weeks. If recent trends hold, expect some sloppy defense tonight from both sides, the winner likely being the team that can take advantage of the opposition's miscues the most.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter