The Miami HEAT finish their six game road trip tonight as they take on the Phoenix Suns. The HEAT are 3-2 on the trip and 7-3 overall.1. Doesn't seem that long ago that we saw the Suns in Miami. What changes tonight?
Couper Moorhead: Nothing will be different until the Suns prove they can defend Miami’s pick-and-rolls regularly throughout the course of the game. Marcin Gortat is good enough to cover for a number of mistakes at the rim, but if he’s constantly having to cover distance because LeBron James is turning the corner off screens with ease, then Chris Bosh is going to once again enjoy plenty of looks in space.
Danny Martinez: The biggest difference is the HEAT are playing the sixth and final game of their road trip. The HEAT have played in six games in eight days and four timezones. Fatigue may be setting in a little bit. Also, the HEAT may be without their starting backcourt. If that’s the case, the dynamic changes a little, but the HEAT have the horses to be just fine.2. Many people have been surprised by the Suns' early-season record. What's helping them out so far?
Couper: The Suns’ offense was propped up by some unsustainably high percentages in the mid-range, where they take as many or more jumper as any other team in the league, including Boston and Philadelphia, but those rates have already started to fall. Phoenix was also enjoying having more than half of their shots with less than four seconds left on the shot clock – those contest, scrambling shots that are never one of the first three options in a possession – going in, but again that’s not something that can last very well over time. This is why you play process over results. A few games worth of a sample size really doesn’t mean much at all.
Danny: The Suns have had the benefit of an easy slate and have only had one back-to-back. Still, the Suns have to be happy with a 4-5 record. Their overall point differential indicates that that record isn’t sustainable. A couple of close wins have buoyed them, but over time it looks like they’ll slip some.3. How good has LeBron been in the clutch so far?
Couper: This has been the topic of the week for us because of a couple of very close games, and it led me to do a little digging. Over the past two seasons and change with Miami, LeBron has a PER (player efficiency rating) over 34, by far the highest mark in the league, and when you consider that league average in that category is 15 and LeBron usually hovers around 28-30, you could even argue that he has raised his level of play late in games. These days, if you still claim that LeBron isn’t clutch, you’re living on a different planet.
Danny: LeBron has been LeBron in the clutch. His play in the last five minutes of close games has been exceptional. His play in the first 43 minutes of games has been exceptional. One of LeBron’s best features is that he doesn’t change his game for specific scenarios. He makes the right read regardless of any situation. It is what’s helped the HEAT win some close games themselves.4. How much will the team benefit from the end of the road trip?
Couper: When this game ends, the HEAT will begin a stretch of three games in 13 days. Just what the doctor ordered when you’re suffering from a number of issues on the defensive end that require more than just an hour shootaround to fix. Erik Spoelstra is going to be talking a ton about defense over the next two weeks, and assuming everyone gets healthy be prepared for a more familiar Miami defense come December – something we’re already seeing hints of in fourth quarters when Miami’s defensive efficiency has been among the best in the league.
Danny: A lot. Not only was the road trip long, but the games were all squished together and while being spread out all over the country. When the HEAT return to Miami early Sunday morning, they’ll settle into a long stretch of home games with plenty of days off sprinkled in. That will provide the HEAT players and coaches ample time to tie up any loose ends that the road trip exposed.5. If Mario Chalmers can't play, what do you expect from Norris Cole?
Couper: Cole hasn’t been perfect, but he’s fitting into the overall scheme of things much better than he did last year. He hasn’t converted on a high rate of his threes, but his shot looks much improved and his percentages should eventually rise if he keeps his current form. Cole still gets a little too aggressive challenging shotblockers at the rim, but we’re also seeing him mature in that area, going to a floater earlier in a drive rather than forcing contact. It’s tough to notice all the little things at times, but Cole is definitely still growing as a player, one capable of having an impact on a game even if he isn’t making jumpers or getting steals.
Danny: Norris Cole has made strides this season in maintaining control in any situation. He’s settled his pace and been able to work effectively in pick-and-rolls. Against the Suns, Cole doesn’t have to do anything particularly special. He needs play solid defense and let the offense come to him. As evidenced by his shot against the Suns, Cole isn’t afraid to let it fly. While he may be thrust into a bigger role, he doesn’t need to press and force plays that aren’t there.