Portland Trail Blazers (31-37) at Miami Heat (34-35)
March 19, 2017, 3:00 PST
Watch: CSN NW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Ed Davis (out), Festus Ezeli (out)
Heat injuries: Dion Waiters (out), Hassan Whiteside (day-to-day), Justice Winslow (out), Josh McRoberts (out)
SBN Affiliate: Hot Hot Hoops
The Trail Blazers look to finish their current road trip on a high note when they visit Miami Sunday afternoon. Portland’s struggles on the road have been obvious this season, but they have an opportunity to return home to the Moda Center with only one loss in the last week of play. Going 4-1 on this trip won’t be easy, as the red-hot Heat stand in the Blazers’ way.
Miami’s turnaround started in mid-January, when the squad from South Beach reeled-off 13 consecutive wins. The Heat own the highest winning percentage in the league from that point on, and are now within one game of a .500 record.
Hassan Whiteside leads the way for coach Eric Spoelstra’s squad. The big man is carrying a streak of 11 straight double-doubles into this contest, and he has already torched the Blazers once this season. Unfortunately for the Heat, Whiteside tweaked his shoulder late in Friday’s win over the Timberwolves, putting his availability for today’s game in limbo.
Outside of Whiteside’s dominating presence in the middle, Miami is led by a stable of athletic wings. Even with Dion Waiters sidelined, the Heat have three solid bench options to replace him in the starting lineup. Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson are emerging two-way talents, and the well-traveled Wayne Ellington is capable of providing a spark when called upon.
Perhaps the most underrated factor in Miami’s resurgence is the scrappy play of James Johnson and Rodney McGruder. McGruder, a rookie out of Kansas State, has started 52 games for the Heat this season. His play isn’t flashy, but his work on the defensive end often gets under the skin of his opponent. In similar fashion, Johnson makes his impact with his relentless tenacity. If Whiteside is unable to play, the former Wake Forest forward is capable of guarding post players who have significant size advantages.
The Heat’s aggressive defense could pose a major problem for the turnover-prone Blazers. Portland had a solid win over Atlanta on Saturday, but an eye-popping 22 turnovers is cause for some serious concern heading into this afternoon’s matchup.
Outside of the lapses in judgement with the ball, the Blazers have strung together two impressive victories. The contributions aren’t just coming from the backcourt, as Noah Vonleh recorded his first double-double of the season against the Hawks. Along with the young power forward’s recent uptick in production, Jusuf Nurkić continues to be a positive presence on both ends of the court.
Given the injury troubles the Heat are facing, the Blazers should make this contest competitive. Miami still has plenty of solid options, though, so finishing a five-game road trip on the second night of a back-to-back will be a difficult obstacle for Portland to overcome.