Miami Heat (15-20) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (27-8)
Thursday, January 8
Moda Center; Portland, OR | 7:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: TNT; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: | Out for the Heat: Josh McRoberts, Justin Hamilton (day-to-day)
SBN Affiliate: Hot Hot Hoops | Timmay's Viewing Guide | BE's 2014-15 Heat Season Preview | Blazer's Edge Night
The Blazers host the Miami Heat at the Moda Center tonight. Although they beat the Nets at home Sunday, the Heat had lost four straight heading into that contest.
Miami is sitting at 15-20 -- which is good for the No. 8 seed in the East -- and struggling to gain some sense of cohesion on the court as the team adjusts to life without LeBron James.
The Heat play at a glacial pace, attempting fewer shots per game than any other team in the league by far. Over the last five games, Miami has gotten up 69.4 field goal attempts per night; The Wizards, the No. 29 team in the NBA in shots per game in that span, have put up over 78 field goals per contest.
Even when looking at a pace-adjusted stat like NBA.com's Offensive Rating -- which measures how many points are scored per 100 possessions by a team -- the Heat rank No. 17 overall both for the season and over the last five games. They don't pass the ball well and struggle with turnovers, rarely pushing the tempo and unable to score consistently inside.
Miami doesn't have many accurate three-point shooters, but the team does draw a lot of free throws and is able to hit a ton of its overall field goals. The problem is that coach Erik Spoelstra's preferred tempo requires the Heat to play 48 minutes of solid defense in order to keep the opposition from running away with games, and that hasn't happened much so far this season, as they rank No. 24 in average scoring margin per game for the season at -4.1 points, according to TeamRankings.com. Miami also boasts the NBA's fifth-worst Defensive Rating over the last five games, giving up 110.1 points per 100 possessions.
The Heat defend the middle fairly well, but shots can be had elsewhere, as they're allowing 46.6 percent from the floor the last five games (No. 21 in the league) and 42.5 percent from deep (No. 29). Miami doesn't force many turnovers and opponents can rack up assists against them while also drawing plenty of fouls.
Guard Dwyane Wade says he's the healthiest he's been since the 2010-11 season, and it's showed the last couple weeks. In that time, he's averaged 22 points and six assists per game on 50 percent shooting from the floor. He's still a terrible three-point shooter, but he mostly avoids outside shots altogether and has canned 53.8 percent of his midrange jumpers and two-thirds of his shots at the basket the last five games. Wade scores unassisted on over 73 percent of his made field goals, creating more of his own offense than any of his teammates. The ball goes through him on almost every possession, and he's been pretty efficient lately.
Big man Chris Bosh returned to Miami this summer after testing the free agent waters, content to see his role expand in Spoelstra's offense with King James back in Cleveland ($118 million over five years was also probably pretty convincing). Bosh has had a good year, but his touches have dipped a tad recently even if his efficiency remains the same. Over the last five games, he's nailed 49.2 percent of his shots and 46.2 percent of his 3.3 outside shots per contest, averaging 19.8 points a night. Bosh doesn't foray into the paint particularly often for his own offense, instead opting to shoot from the midrange, where he's a great scorer.
Wade and Bosh combined for 51 of the Heat's 88 total points against Brooklyn Sunday, a slightly exaggerated but not altogether inaccurate representation of how important their scoring is in Miami's offense.
Forward Luol Deng is normally an average three-point shooter but can't hit an outside shot to save his live right now, averaging 28.6 percent from deep the last five games. He's a good jumpshooter within the arc, though, and Deng is capable of taking it to the basket and finishing strong. Chris Andersen starts in the frontcourt alongside Bosh and his touches are limited, though he does score effectively inside in short bursts.
The weak link of the Heat is the play of their point guards; Starter Mario Chalmers went 1-for-5 from the floor Sunday in 28 minutes, picking up just one assist and three turnovers, which is fairly indicative of his recent play -- though to his credit, he doesn't always have that bad of an assist-to-turnover ratio. Chalmers' backup, Norris Cole, racks up fewer assists and more turnovers than his backcourt counterpart and is a worse outside shooter but a slightly better finisher.
Miami has recalled rookie guard Shabazz Napier from a recent successful stint in the D-League and he'll be available tonight, but he's been the worst ball-handler this season of the three point guards on the roster and barely looks for his own shot.
Though the Heat have struggled to find a reliable guard to bring the ball up and initiate the offense, Spoelstra has had a few pleasant surprises develop in his bench unit recently. Forward Danny Granger, who hasn't played a full season in four years, is cashing in on half his three-pointers the last five games and over 53 percent of his midrange jumpers. Granger is a great catch-and-shoot player, particularly from outside.
Center Hassan Whiteside, who's been with three NBA teams and has had multiple D-League tours since being selected by the Kings No. 33 overall in the second round of the 2010 draft, is a great finisher inside and a dangerous shot-blocker.
Forwards Shawne Williams, James Ennis and Udonis Haslem are at the end of Miami's playing rotation, and none are very active offensively and all three may, in fact, collect DNP-CDs tonight.
The Blazers' offense has been rolling along fairly well recently, though the win over the Lakers Monday night was a bit of a hiccup as the team went 33-for-83 (39.8 percent) from the field. Still, Portland finished with an 11-for-26 (42.3 percent) line from deep and escaped with the victory. Over the last five games, the Blazers have averaged more three-point attempts than any other team in the league and have made a higher percentage than all but four.
Portland's outside shooting attack may have lost its most potent scorer, however, as guard Wesley Matthews went down in the first quarter Monday with a hyper-extended knee. Though he returned to action later in the quarter, Matthews said he experienced pain in the knee all game and finished just 1-for-6 from deep. He'll evaluate today whether or not he feels comfortable playing tonight on a knee that could be prone to further injury, but either way, he didn't practice yesterday and he's not likely to be 100 percent if he does suit up. If Matthews is missing from the lineup, the Blazers will miss his 19.2 points per game over the last five and his 41.1 percent shooting from long-range in that stretch.
Point guard Damian Lillard shouldered the scoring burden against the Lakers after Matthews was hobbled, dropping 39 points and shooting 12-for-21 from the field, 4-for-8 from deep and 11-for-13 from the free throw line. Lillard had a couple key threes down the stretch and iced the game from the free throw line while scoring 16 of Portland's final 22 points. Over the last five games, Lillard has finished very well inside but his floater and his midrange jumper have been inconsistent. He's also made just 34.9 percent of his threes in that time -- down from 39.3 percent for the season -- so he'll have to step up if Matthews isn't feeling up to playing tonight. Lillard's assists are up lately and he's managed to keep his turnovers pretty low for a player who has the ball as much as he does.
Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge took turns with Lillard scoring for the Blazers down the stretch Monday, but had a somewhat-quiet 21 points on 8-for-20 shooting. Over half of Aldridge's shots the last several games have been from the midrange, but he's struggled to hit those attempts and has made about two-thirds of his tries in the lane in that time.
Though Whiteside's a good shot-blocker and Andersen plays tough inside, Miami's frontcourt will likely have trouble containing Aldridge. That is especially true if center Chris Kaman -- the 32-year-old offseason free agent acquisition who's been forced into starting duty with big men Robin Lopez and Joel Freeland shelved with injuries -- can play big minutes again without getting too winded. Against L.A., he came out swinging in the opening frame but cooled off as 27 minutes of game-time wore on the veteran center.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts will try to keep a lid on Kaman's minutes tonight, which means more playing time for third-year center Meyers Leonard. He went 4-of-5 from the field and 3-of-4 from deep against the Lakers in 19 minutes, beasting against L.A.'s bigs -- at least offensively and on the boards -- after completing a four-point play late in the game that apparently lit a fire underneath him. Leonard is a good outside shooter in very limited attempts this year, and he'll be called upon to be a scorer off the bench with Kaman likely starting tonight.
Forward Nicolas Batum hasn't put together a solid stretch of games lately, though he has hit some timely three-pointers and is up to 42.9 percent shooting from outside the last five contests. He's also hit half of all his field goals in that time, but his attempts aren't many and his assists are down, perhaps signifying a lack of engagement on the offensive end.
Besides Leonard, none of the Blazers' bench players contributed much offensively against the Lakers on Monday. Guards Steve Blake, CJ McCollum and Allen Crabbe combined to shoot 2-of-10 from the field. Blake hesitates to pull the trigger on his own shots and Crabbe rarely dials his own number; when he does, it's been pretty off lately. McCollum is shooting well from outside but doesn't attempt many field goals in general. Power forward Thomas Robinson isn't scoring well, either, and wings Will Barton and Dorell Wright, along with forward Victor Claver, couldn't get off the bench against L.A. on Monday.
Portland's defense has been stout the last couple weeks, but the team has only played one game without both Lopez and Freeland down low. The Blazers have defended the three-point line better than any team in the NBA the last five games and have prevented teams from passing the ball easily, but that was with a fully healthy Matthews. If he plays tonight, Matthews will be matched against Wade, Miami's resurgent scoring machine. Wade almost certainly won't be a factor from deep, but he can get to his spots in the midrange and can still attack the hoop, while Bosh can draw out whichever big is guarding him and can keep Portland's defense honest with his extended range.
Whiteside is a good rebounder on both sides of the ball, while Bosh is less of a weapon on the glass because he tends to drift toward the perimeter. Andersen is individually effective, but as a whole, the Heat don't rebound very well and Aldridge, Kaman, Robinson and Leonard -- if he plays as lights-out on the boards as he did Monday -- should be able to handle Miami in the rebounding department, even down two important frontcourt players. Watch for Lillard or Batum to swoop in and have a decent rebounding game, as they're both good at rebounding for their respective positions and have an opportunity against the Heat to be effective on the glass.
Even though Miami has struggled to get and maintain traction on either side of the ball since James left town this past summer, Bosh and Wade are still All-Star-caliber players and can put points up from from all over the court. Still, those points come in the slowest-paced offense in the entire NBA and the Blazers should be able to exploit a weak Heat defense that is most susceptible from beyond the arc -- where Portland excels offensively.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter
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