• Miami HEAT at Portland Trail Blazers Game Thread and Preview

    Photo Credit: Cameron Browne The Miami HEAT face the Portland Trail Blazers Saturday night at Moda Center. The HEAT fell to the Trail Blazers 110-93 in their last meeting on April 2. Tip-off is set for 10:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 9:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket. 1: How did Miami pull off such an impressive victory in Utah, on the second night of a back-to-back? Couper Moorhead: There were contributions all across the board in what was Miami’s most impressive win of the season. Wayne Ellington couldn’t miss for the second night in a row, James Johnson was a bulldozer getting to the rim and locking up on the defensive end and everyone else chipped in to help make responsive runs to every Utah burst. But this game was about Goran Dragic coming out of the gates attacking the rim relentlessly and constantly keeping the defense on its toes. That he hit a pair of late threes to keep Miami ahead certainly helped, but the shooting is just the icing on the cake. When Dragic is playing like this, and shooters are hitting off his creation, it looks like an offense that has been fully actualized. Joe Beguiristain: Sheer effort. Despite having just nine available players once Luke Babbitt exited the game, Miami gutted it out and made big plays down the stretch to secure the win. No player was perhaps more impactful than James Johnson, who scored 14 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists after halftime. He also forced Gordon Hayward to double-clutch and ultimately miss what would have been the game-winning jumper. While we’ve seen Johnson have impressive spurts throughout the year, this was easily his most complete performance. Of course, I’d be remiss without also mentioning Goran Dragić, who scored 14 points in the fourth quarter. Thanks to both he and Johnson, Miami scored 64 points in the paint against one of the best defensive teams in the league. That’s something to be proud of.  2: What’s different about Portland’s roster this season and what sort of start are they off to? Couper: After a successful year last season with a relatively young group, Portland had some money to spend during the offseason. With flexibility in hand, they retained Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard and then signed both Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli. So it’s not a vastly different roster, but it could have been given how much was up in the air during the summer. As for their start, it’s been up and down so far. With Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum leading perimeter heavy offense, the Blazers have locked in a legitimate Top 10 offense that has almost underachieved at times with how the bench has struggled to incorporate the newer pieces and lineups. But for as good as the offense has been, the defense has been about the opposite as it currently sits as the worst in the league. With Al-Farouq Aminu missing a chunk of time and Portland allowing the second-highest three-point percentage in the league that ranking might be a little flukey, but Portland still allows teams to get into the paint with regularity. Joe: As Coup said above, Portland’s roster hasn’t changed all that much since the team re-signed a bunch of guys. However, they did bring in Festus Ezeli (who is currently rehabbing from knee surgery), Evan Turner and former HEAT player Shabazz Napier. Turner has provided a spark off the bench for the Trail Blazers, as he’s averaging 13.7 points, 3.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game on 52.4 percent shooting in his last six. The 28-year-old has been doing the majority of his damage in the paint and restricted area, so Miami will have to contain him off the dribble. Overall, Portland hasn’t started off as quickly as it probably wanted to. While they’ve won two of their last three, the team is currently 10-10. A lot of that has to do with their defense, which ranks last in the league in terms of efficiency. That said, the Trail Blazers have one of the best offenses in the league thanks to the dynamic backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. As usual, those guys will be a handful to contain.  3: What sort of matchup issues could there be for both sides Saturday night? Couper: The Dragic-Hassan Whiteside combination could be a tough one for a Portland team that doesn’t have elite defenders at either position and with the Blazers not being a particularly strong defensive rebounding unit so far and Whiteside’s size advantage in the middle, there should be plenty of opportunities on the offensive glass. But Portland is a good offense for a reason. Both Lillard and McCollum can shoot from anywhere but can do it off the dribble, which means any and every screen set for them is a potential shot. Last season’s Portland game in Miami was one of Whiteside’s bigger challenges of the year as he was forced to step out and defend on the perimeter. And if Portland plays Meyers Leonard, a strong shooter, at the same time there will be even more ground for Whiteside to cover and manage. But it’s not all on Miami’s center. Miami will have to be disciplined in their help on to shooters – something Portland doesn’t make easy given their emphasis on spacing. Joe: For the HEAT, they need to try and limit Lillard and McCollum as much as possible. The two guards provide a unique challenge since both can run the pick-and-roll well. In fact, Lillard is among the league’s elite with 1.06 points per possession as the pick-and-roll ball handler. McCollum isn’t ranked quite as high, but his shooting splits are pretty solid. The majority of his shots this season have come from mid-range, where he is shooting 49-of-104 (47.1 percent). On the flip side of things, Portland could have some trouble stopping Miami from getting into the paint. The HEAT have just been in attack mode of late, averaging 58 points in the paint over their last three. Of course, with Dragić attacking the basket and getting to the rim at will, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Winning at Moda Center is no easy feat, but we’ll see if Miami can cap off an already successful road trip with yet another victory.  Highlights: April 2-HEAT at Trail Blazers Game Notes: The HEAT have won two straight and stand at 7-12. The Trail Blazers have won two of three and are 10-10 thus far. Miami and Portland split the season-series a year ago, with each team winning on its home floor. Since returning from injury, Goran Dragić is averaging 23.3 points and 10.0 assists per game on 45.3 percent shooting.   Efficiencies (Rank): HEAT Offense: 100.5 (25) HEAT Defense: 102.1 (10) Trail Blazers Offense: 108.0 (7) Trail Blazers Defense: 110.4 (30)

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