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Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon The Miami HEAT host the Dallas Mavericks Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT defeated the Mavericks 93-90 in their last meeting on February 3. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket. 1: What can the HEAT build on from their win over the Houston Rockets? Couper Moorhead: Plenty, given that this was one of Miami’s most complete efforts of the season. Offensively they were able to get Hassan Whiteside the ball with deep position early on and once he was established, similar to a football team establishing the run game, and the Rockets spent a little extra energy trying to keep him away from the rim, Miami punished that Houston defense by attacking the paint again and again and again. Getting to the rim has been a primary focus all year for this team, but shooting 24-of-35 in that zone was one of their most efficient performances of the year. Defense was where Miami really went above and beyond. The Houston Rockets were and are having a historically good offensive season – or would be, were it not for the Warriors and Raptors – and are taking more threes than any team in the history of the league by a wide margin. So to hold that team to a 94.2 offensive rating and just 9-of-39 shooting from deep was the story of the night. Some of that had to do with Houston’s two best shooters either being absent (Ryan Anderson out with an illness) or ice-cold (Eric Gordon shot 3-of-17), and three-point shooting is notoriously difficult to affect no matter how well you are contesting, but the HEAT did everything in their power to attack Houston’s strength. For that, they were rewarded with a win. Joe Beguiristain: The HEAT did a lot of things right against the Rockets on Tuesday night, but let’s start off by discussing the offensive side of the ball. As usual, Goran Dragić was the catalyst with his team-high 21 points and eight assists, and thanks to his ability to get into the paint, five other players scored in double-figures for Miami. While Dragić didn’t connect with Hassan Whiteside for any alley-oops, he did find Wayne Ellington on the perimeter quite often, including an important setup that led to a three that put the HEAT up 105-94 with 1:41 to play. In fact, three of Dragić’s eight assists went to the swingman, which was the most he had to any player on the evening. In all, it was great to see the Dragon take advantage of Houston’s fast pace and get out in transition where he is at his best. On the flip side of the ball, Miami did a great job against one of the best offenses in the league and held the Rockets to 40 percent shooting. In particular, Tyler Johnson held his own while defending James Harden and tallied an 87.9 rating against Houston. Additionally, the HEAT forced the Rockets to commit 18 turnovers and scored 20 points off those. In short, it was easily one of Miami’s best wins of the season. 2: How has this season gone for the Dallas Mavericks so far? Couper: As far as record goes, this season has probably been just as disappointing for Dallas, a team largely made up of veterans, as it has been for Miami. Certainly, neither team expected to be this low in the standings just a few weeks before All-Star Weekend. The reasons have been somewhat similar as well, with Miami losing so many games to injury and Dallas having been without Dirk Nowitzki for all but 16 games and Andrew Bogut, their best defender, for all but 22. But while Miami has struggled to score this season, the Mavericks have struggled to defend as they’re giving up over 108 points per 100 possessions (in the league’s bottom third) despite an offense that’s almost exactly the league median at the moment. This will be similar to the previous matchup with Portland – a good small-ball offensive team against a good defensive team – with a variety of interesting matchups on both sides. But where the Trail Blazers have two ballhandlers uniquely capable of shooting off the dribble, Dallas relies a bit more on pick-and-roll spacing to create a similar rate of three-pointers. Joe: While the Mavericks have struggled for a majority of the season due to injuries, things have gotten better of late with the team playing small-ball. In fact, Dallas has won three straight since Rick Carlisle started the three-guard lineup of Deron Williams, Seth Curry and Wes Matthews alongside Harrison Barnes and Dirk Nowitzki. In total, that five-man lineup has produced a 122.8 offensive rating in 63 minutes. Although all three guards have played pretty well, Curry has really taken advantage of his opportunity. The 26-year-old is averaging 12.3 points on 54.2 percent shooting in his last three, including 53.8 percent from downtown. When you also factor in the continued strong play of Barnes and the return of Nowitzki, you have a team that should get better offensively as the season continues.
3: Are there any matchups Miami can try to take advantage of Thursday night? Couper: This depends on whether or not Dallas makes a pre-game adjustment. In Andrew Bogut’s absence (he’s dealing with a hamstring injury) the Mavericks have been starting Dirk Nowitzki, now 38 years old, at center along with Harrison Barnes at the power forward spot. If Dallas stays with that alignment then the HEAT would have a significant size advantage in the middle of the floor with Hassan Whiteside, even with Dallas playing at such a slow pace that they’ll be more than willing to send a ton of bodies to the defensive glass. Yes, this would mean Whiteside would also have to track Nowitzki in the pick-and-pop and on the perimeter, but that’s a tradeoff Miami will more than likely be happy with given how much attention the Mavericks would have to devote to the HEAT’s center on the other end. What’s probably more likely, however, is that Dallas plays seven-footer Salah Mejri over his usual minute allotment to try and match size-for-size. Dallas has actually been an above-average defensive team with Mejri (or Bogut) on the floor. Joe: The clear-cut one for Miami is Whiteside against Nowitzki. On Tuesday, the big fella out of Marshall used his size advantage wisely against both Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell and tallied a double-double early on in the third quarter. That could be the case once more against a Mavericks team that is thin on bigs with Andrew Bogut out. Of course, Whiteside will also have to go out on the perimeter to defend one of the best shooters in NBA history in Nowitzki. Still, the 27-year-old has the right disposition needed to limit the sure-fire Hall of Famer. “I’m a defensive-minded guy,” Whiteside said after practice on Wednesday. “I’m a guy that takes pride in defense regardless of wherever we’re at on the court.” Other than Whiteside vs. Nowitzki, another matchup the HEAT could take advantage of is James Johnson against either Barnes or Dwight Powell. The versatile forward should be able to use his unique blend of brute force and fancy footwork to make plays at the rim against Dallas. Highlights: February 3-HEAT at Mavericks January 1-Mavericks at HEAT Game Notes: The HEAT are 12-30, while the Mavericks enter the contest at 14-27. Miami has won nine of its past ten games against Dallas. Tyler Johnson and James Johnson are the only two players in the NBA this season to record at least 400 points, 150 rebounds and 100 assists apiece off the bench. Harrison Barnes leads the Mavericks in scoring at 20.6 points per game. Efficiencies (Rank): HEAT Offense: 100.7 (29) HEAT Defense: 104.7 (11) Mavericks Offense: 102.2 (25) Mavericks Defense: 106.9 (22)