The Portland Trail Blazers will welcome the Miami Heat to the cozy confines of the Moda Center on Sunday. The natural high-point of the event was supposed to be the return of former Blazers forward-center Meyers Leonard, a crowd favorite in his later years with the team. Leonard is not with the Heat on their seven-game road trip because of an ankle injury. The game still matters for a couple of important reasons.
First, there’s the curiosity factor. The Heat acquired Andre Iguodala during this week’s NBA Trade Deadline. Sunday could give an early look at the new rotation. It’ll be a chance for the Heat to strut their stuff, but it’ll also give Portland a chance to exploit the opponent’s unfamiliarity. Teams don’t do well covering Damian Lillard 30-footers as it is. Will the need for hyperactive vigilance against Portland’s All-Star cause Miami’s defense to crumble? Will Lillard get some measure of revenge on Iguodala for last year’s playoffs-ending defensive play?
Even if the Heat come out strong, this is a fantastic test for the Blazers. Portland’s goal can’t just be to make the playoffs. They need to make noise if they get there. Nobody is expecting them to challenge the Lakers or Clippers. Miami is a solid team, a threat to everyone save the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference. This is a home game for Portland. It should be tough, but it should also be winnable.
If the Blazers wish to announce their intention to continue the hunt for a seed in the 2020 NBA Playoffs. beating Miami would be a fine start. If they can do it without Lillard scoring 40, even better. They’ve been an on-again, off-again squad for a while now. Theoretically, a team like the Heat should eat that for lunch. Avoiding that trap and emerging victorious would say something about Portland’s maturity and ability to persevere when the going gets tough.
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