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  1. Photo Credit: Ron Turenne The Miami HEAT fell to the Toronto Raptors 116-89 Sunday afternoon at Air Canada Centre in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Six players scored in double-figures for the HEAT. With the win, Toronto takes the series 4-3. Click here for the full recap on HEAT.com.
  2. Photo Credit: Vaughn Ridley The Miami HEAT face the Toronto Raptors Sunday afternoon at Air Canada Centre in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The HEAT defeated the Raptors 103-91 in Game 6 to even the series at three games apiece. Tip-off is set for 3:30 PM and television coverage is on ABC, although you can log on to HEAT.com for an exclusive one-hour pre-game show. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket. 1: How did the move to start Justise Winslow at center change the complexion of the series? Couper Moorhead: The HEAT had already started playing much smaller, other than with Josh McRoberts, in the past couple games since Hassan Whiteside went down with a knee injury so the change to the starting lineup felt like a natural progression of that. But with Toronto seemingly sticking with their starting frontcourt of Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo, we now have two very distinct styles going to battle with one another – with Miami very clearly trying to take advantage of its speed, as we saw Goran Dragic able to do in Game 6. The move worked to Miami’s advantage, but Dwane Casey didn’t seem to think his team’s struggles were due to the lineup so much as Toronto’s difficulty containing the ball in one-on-one situations – even though those situations were made a little more stressful with more spacing on the floor for the HEAT. While the small lineup was effective, we can’t expect it to be a silver bullet in the way that Golden State starting Andre Iguodala during last year’s NBA Finals seemed to be. Miami still has to do a lot of dirty work on the boards, where they are outsized, and they’ll have to work around Biyombo laying off Justise Winslow’s shooting on the perimeter. It’s all about who can get to who at this point. Joe Beguiristain: The smaller lineup did a lot of things on both ends. First off, Miami was able to get out in transition a bit more with the faster unit on the floor. Of course, that all started with the team’s improved defense in Game 6. Being able to switch on every defensive assignment didn’t give Toronto that many chances at a mismatch. Additionally, the HEAT did a nice job of gang-rebounding against a bigger Raptors squad. Case in point: Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and Josh Richardson combined for 18 of Miami’s 41 rebounds on the night. Still, none of this would have been possible had it not been for the stellar play of Justise Winslow. Winslow fought hard on both ends and boxed-out Bismack Biyombo quite well for a majority of the contest. The rookie also mixed things up offensively with a few outside jumpers and finishes inside for 12 points in all on 4-of-9 shooting. 2: With Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan playing their best ball of the series at the same time, what can Miami do to slow them down in Game 7? Couper: They have to be able to contain the ball one-on-one. Not just because there is a distinct lack of rim protection on the floor for Miami these days, but because with all the switching they are doing on the perimeter the HEAT are trusting their individual defenders to keep the ball in front. There’s only so much you can do if DeRozan is going to hit his pull-up mid-range jumpers or if Lowry is going to hit step-back threes, but you have to affect them on their forays into the paint. It’s one thing to get beat by exceedingly tough shots. It’s another thing entirely to get beat by layups. Joe: It sounds simple, but you have to keep them out of the paint as much as possible. While DeMar DeRozan hit some in-rhythm mid-range jumpers on Friday night, he was held scoreless in the fourth quarter. Again, being able to switch defensively should make the 26-year-old a bit more uncomfortable. With Lowry, you have to watch out for the three-ball. Although he’s shooting just 33.3 percent from deep in this series, he still is a threat. That said, Richardson defended the veteran point guard very well in Game 6 and swatted his shot twice in the fourth quarter. Hopefully the young man out of Tennessee can keep it up. 3: How do you win a Game 7 on the road? Couper: You weather the storm. Yes, Miami needs to fight for all the details on the floor while executing their schemes to the fullest, but when you’re on the road in a game like this you know the home team is going to make a run. So, you have to absorb it and hang around long enough to make your own run. Miami was able to do this, in a sense, in Game 5 – they just took too big of a punch at the beginning of the game. Home teams generally win these games for a reason and road teams never win in a blowout, but as long as Miami can keep things close enough for long enough by making winning plays, they’ll give themselves a chance to compete at the end. Joe: You win a Game 7 on the road by sticking to your principles. You already know that Toronto will feed off the energy from its home crowd in the early going, so a quick start from Miami will be important. As I’ve stated numerous times before, it all begins on the defensive end. When the HEAT are defending at the level they are capable of, there aren't many teams that can defeat them. With it being a do-or-die situation, I expect Miami to come out with a laser-sharp focus on Sunday afternoon. Luckily, the team was in this same predicament in the last round, down 3-2 to the Charlotte Hornets. Even though the HEAT don’t have home court this time and thus no Game 7 at home, they still understand what it takes to come away victorious when their backs are against the wall. Highlights: Game 6 Game Notes: The HEAT are aiming to become the first team in NBA history to surmount a 3-2 series deficit twice in the same postseason. Erik Spoelstra is 10-4 in elimination games as a head coach. Dwyane Wade leads Miami in points (25.2) and assists (3.7) per game in the ECSF. Kyle Lowry leads Toronto in points (21.5), assists (5.3) and steals (2.3) per contest in the series against the HEAT.
  3. Photo Credit: Jesse D. Garrabrant The Miami HEAT defeated the Toronto Raptors 103-91 Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Goran Dragic led the way for the HEAT with 30 points. The series is now tied 3-3. Click here for the full recap on HEAT.com.
  4. Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon The Miami HEAT host the Toronto Raptors Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The HEAT fell to the Raptors 99-91 in Game 5 on May 11, which gave Toronto a 3-2 series lead. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM and television coverage is on ESPN, although you can log on to HEAT.com for an exclusive one-hour pre-game show. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket. 1: What did the Raptors do to take such a big early lead in Game 5 and how can Miami avoid letting it happen again? Couper Moorhead: It was all about Toronto’s defense early on. Of course, neither team has particularly been rolling offensively all series long, but the Raptors helped their scoring by nailing all their details on the other end. Every switch was executed well, with Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo sliding over onto perimeter players whenever necessary, the passing lanes were clogged and lanes to the rim were tough to come by. While Miami eventually found its footing, Toronto’s defense didn’t allow consecutive good looks until well into the game. How to avoid that? Be sharper and be prepared for that sort of defensive energy. You’re going to go through stretches where you miss some shots, that’s just the nature of this series, but the only way to mitigate the damage caused by those possessions is to be careful with the ball – not live-ball turnovers – and get back in transition so it’s just as tough for Toronto to score. Joe Beguiristain: While the Raptors have been very good on the defensive end for most of this series, they kicked it into high gear at the start of Game 5. As expected, Dwane Casey went with the frontcourt duo of Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo early and often. That move paid dividends, as Biyombo wreaked havoc at the rim and totaled four blocks in the first half. Thanks to Toronto’s solid defense overall, the team raced out in transition for some easy buckets. In particular, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry got into a nice rhythm, which they then carried over down the stretch. The HEAT can avoid all this by simply executing better and moving the ball around like they’re capable of. After reaching the 20-assist mark three times in the first round against Charlotte, Miami has yet to do so in this series. Hopefully that changes on Friday. 2: What can we take from Miami’s second-half comeback? Couper: That the super-small ball lineups works. Going up against the frontline of Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo, Miami’s forwards – along with Josh McRoberts – held as strong as can be expected while the all-wing lineups generated the spacing and speed needed from those formations. That led to, for an important stretch, some open threes for Josh Richardson because the Raptors had trouble communicating cross-matches in transition, but otherwise the lineups opened up the paint and gave everyone a lane to attack. Toronto’s defense still made things tough, but it was positive to see players like Justise Winslow and Tyler Johnson attack long closeouts and get into the paint. Johnson, in particular, made some nice finds off the bounce to create shots Miami wouldn’t have had otherwise. None of it led to a win, but considering Miami won the second half of Game 5 by two points while playing almost entirely small lineups should be encouraging even as they play for their playoff lives on Friday. Joe: Other than the smaller lineups having success like Coup stated above, my other takeaway was that Miami didn’t succumb to the pressure. While that is nothing new since we’ve seen the team come back from deficits time and time again, it’s still impressive to do on the road in the postseason. Not to mention, the HEAT actually made two nice surges in Game 5. The first was led by Goran Dragic at the end of the first half to cut the Raptors’ lead to ten at halftime. The other occurred later in the contest when Miami rattled off a 20-11 run in the fourth quarter to get within a point with 1:54 remaining. With Justise Winslow primarily playing center in the period, the HEAT were able to get some stops. In turn, that led to points in transition at the other end. A good chunk of those points came from Miami’s other rookie, Josh Richardson, as the former Volunteer answered the call with three big treys in the final quarter. Although the HEAT ultimately fell short, it was encouraging to see their young guns thrive in huge roles in a playoff series. 3: What’s the most important thing Miami needs to do in order to stave off elimination? Joe: In addition to moving the ball better, Miami will also need to continue to play good defense. It seems like DeRozan and Lowry have gotten out of their shooting slumps, so stopping them will be critical. More importantly, the team’s pick-and-roll defense will need to be better this time around. Again, the HEAT found success with their smaller lineup featuring Winslow, so perhaps they will get to that earlier in a do-or-die Game 6. Highlights: Game 5 Game Notes: The HEAT have won five straight elimination games at home. Dwyane Wade is averaging 25.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.0 steals per game in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. DeMar DeRozan is averaging 20.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals per contest in the series against Miami. Luol Deng (bruised left wrist) is officially listed as questionable for Game 6. DeMarre Carroll, meanwhile, is also listed as questionable with a left wrist contusion.
  5. Photo Credit: Dave Sandford The Miami HEAT face the Toronto Raptors Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The HEAT defeated the Raptors 94-87 in Game 4, which tied the series 2-2. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM and television coverage is on TNT, although you can log on to HEAT.com for an exclusive one-hour pre-game show. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket. 1: How did the HEAT pull out the win after falling behind late in Game 4? Couper Moorhead: We could easily just say Dwyane Wade and call it a day here, but Miami’s late run was more than that. Erik Spoelstra held his super-small lineup until late in the game, running Luol Deng and Justise Winslow at center, and with that lineup’s ability to switch just about every action it slowed down Toronto’s offense to a crawl and induced one bad shot after another. The other side of that is Kyle Lowry fouled out in regulation and DeMar DeRozan was clearly struggling shooting with his injured thumb, so there’s no guarantee that small lineup works the same way in the future. But as long as those guards and wings bring the same energy they brought at the end of Game 4, things will be competitive. Joe Beguiristain: It was a combination of a few things. For starters, Dwyane Wade once again had a masterful performance in these playoffs. With the game hanging in the balance down the stretch, the vet attacked the basket time and time again for clutch buckets. Wade scored 11 of his team-high 30 points in the fourth quarter and overtime period combined and simply would not be denied. While he was great, the HEAT wouldn’t have came away victorious without Justise Winslow. The rookie forced two key misses from Cory Joseph at the end of regulation and had a big steal in overtime. Joe Johnson also came through on the defensive end with two clutch blocks (one on Joseph and another on DeMar DeRozan) in consecutive possessions at the start of OT. 2: How will Toronto adjust headed back to its home court? Couper: While Casey eventually adjusted to Spoelstra’s lineup and went with Patrick Patterson at the five, he hinted at his media availability on Monday that he could go even smaller than that – so perhaps we’ll see the likes of James Johnson or even DeMarre Carroll at the center spot. Toronto has rarely if ever gone that small this season, so it would be quite the adjustment if they do, but it would also be going in a different direction in a search for answers with Jonas Valanciunas out for the series. Lucas Nogueira was called on for about a dozen backup minutes in Game 4 and wound up being a negative in the box-score, so going small may just be a way to ensure all the players on the floor are players that regularly played for Toronto this season. Of course, Casey could also just play Bismack Biyombo and Patterson together a little bit more. Those two were a +21 in the 26 minutes they shared the court on Monday. Joe: It’s tough to say at this point. Late in the fourth quarter on Monday night, Dwane Casey found success with Joseph and Terrence Ross getting significant minutes. With DeRozan continuing to struggle, both guys hit some big shots for Toronto. The lineup of Joseph and Ross along with Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo ended up being a plus-eight in five minutes together in Game 4. Even though Joseph and Ross stepped up, the Raptors will need DeRozan to get back to form. Unfortunately, the 26-year-old is dealing with an injured thumb on his shooting hand. If that continues to hinder him, Lowry will likely take over the reins. Had the point guard not fouled out at the end of regulation in Game 4, perhaps Toronto would have fared better in overtime. In terms of the frontcourt, I believe Casey will keep his starters intact from Monday night since Patterson and Biyombo played well together as Coup chronicled above. 3: Did you see enough of an improvement in Miami’s offense from the first three games in the series? Couper: It was a good start at least, with Amar’e Stoudemire and Josh McRoberts doing what they could do get the ball moving again. Miami’s passing numbers, assists and potential assists were all up as a result. Dwyane Wade carried the HEAT home to tie the series up, but even for him it’s asking a lot for one repeat performance after another. If the HEAT can find a way to build on and sustain their early balance and movement from Game 4, they’ll be much better off. Joe: Yes and no. At the start of the contest, Miami had a decent rhythm offensively and the ball was moving for the most part. In particular, Goran Dragic and Amar’e Stoudemire ran the pick-and-roll early on and the HEAT totaled 11 assists on 18 made field goals in the first half. The Raptors are stout defensively, but Miami is certainly capable of getting the job done regardless. In fact, the HEAT received some good looks from downtown in Game 4 thanks to solid ball movement at times. While the treys didn’t fall, Miami should try and move the ball more consistently in Game 5. Highlights: Game 4 Game Notes: Dwyane Wade is averaging 27.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game on 49.4 percent shooting in the ECSF. DeMarre Carroll is averaging 12.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest on 47.5 percent shooting in the series. Hassan Whiteside did not travel with the HEAT to Toronto.
  6. Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon The Miami HEAT host the Toronto Raptors Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The HEAT fell to the Raptors 95-91 in Game 3, which gave Toronto a 2-1 series lead. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM and television coverage is on TNT, although you can log on to HEAT.com for an exclusive one-hour pre-game show. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket. 1: Before we get to the injuries, what’s something the HEAT can clean up from their home loss in Game 3? Couper Moorhead: Miami needs to get back to its offensive identity. Everything we know about this team after its All-Star break reconfiguration is that they thrive on speed and ball movement but so far this series has been about as slow as things can get – with the team’s overall passing down a significant amount. Through the first two games the HEAT were averaging 266 passes per game, already a low total, then in Game 3 they had just 217 passes. There’s a lot of context to those numbers but in general they help illustrate that Miami is having trouble getting to the sort of offense they had been so successful with. Now that the team has had a practice in on their own turf, you would expect to see the ball move a little better on Monday. Joe Beguiristain: On the defensive end, the HEAT could be a little sharper with their switches and defensive rotations. Take for instance Kyle Lowry, who did some damage in the second and third quarters of Game 3 thanks to great screens from his teammates and good movement off the ball. That nice rhythm led to a 14-point fourth quarter for the point guard, in which he hit some tough, contested looks. Perhaps it was just the law of averages kicking in, as the 30-year-old came into the game shooting just 28.6 percent from the field. Still, Miami could have made things a bit tougher on him. Offensively, it would be great if the HEAT could get back to their solid ball movement. We all know the team is at its best when the ball is swinging from side-to-side for the best possible shot. Obviously that isn’t always feasible, but trying to impose that would be beneficial. 2: How does Hassan Whiteside’s injury affect things for Miami? Couper: Whiteside’s unfortunate knee injury – a right MCL sprain is still good news, overall – puts, in Erik Spoelstra fashion, everything on the table. Amar’e Stoudemire started the majority of games after the All-Star break when Whiteside was coming off the bench, Udonis Haslem received a heavy dose of minutes on Saturday when Whiteside went down and Josh McRoberts may be a small-ball answer to help get the offense flowing again. There’s also the Luol Deng-Justise Winslow frontcourt group we’ve seen off and on over the past few weeks, though not since Game 3 of the Charlotte series. There’s no perfect solution when you lose your starting center, but the HEAT have the pieces to adjust. They’ll just have to play a different way with their primary rim protector on one end and rim roller on the other. Joe: Whiteside’s injury certainly changes things for Miami. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the big man is his rim protection. Outside of the blocks Whiteside accumulates, you also can’t forget about all the shots he alters at the rim. Players often second-guess themselves when they see the 26-year-old patrolling the middle. On the flip side of the ball, Whiteside’s sheer presence on the offensive glass will also be sorely missed. His ability to keep possessions alive goes understated at times. As Dwyane Wade said after Game 3, “No one can be Hassan Whiteside...we’ve got to have confidence in UD, Amar’e [Stoudemire] and Josh [McRoberts] that they can do what they do. It’s totally different than what Hassan does.” While both Haslem and McRoberts bring something different to the table, they had some solid minutes on Saturday night. Haslem set great screens for Wade, boxed-out well and fought hard on the offensive glass. McRoberts, meanwhile, dazzled with a few nice passes and also had an excellent block on Jonas Valanciunas. It remains to be seen whether or not Erik Spoelstra will play small right away with either McRoberts or Haslem as the starter. Given that it is the postseason, it wouldn’t be surprising if he went with Haslem, but keep in mind that Stoudemire started 36 games during the regular season. 3: How does Jonas Valanciunas’ injury (out for the series with an ankle sprain) affect things for Toronto? Couper: The Raptors are in a similar situation to Miami in that they have a ton of options with nothing jumping out as the obvious solution. You would expect Bismack Biyombo to slide into the starting lineup, but that starting lineup has already undergone multiple changes in the playoffs regardless of injuries so Dwane Casey could pull a double switch. Biyombo is a good defender so Toronto’s scheme shouldn’t change much with him, but they also used Patrick Patterson at the five late in Game 3 to plenty of success after falling behind during Luis Scola’s minutes. Then there’s also the possibility of either James Johnson or DeMarre Carroll seeing minutes at the five, either to matchup with Miami’s small lineups or to force Miami into a change. It’s a real shame that both centers are dealing with injuries and we wish them both well, but as far as things stand on the basketball court just about anything could happen in terms of lineups. Joe: With the absence of the Lithuanian center, it seems like the Raptors would go to Bismack Biyombo. While nowhere near the offensive threat that Valanciunas is, Biyombo is a very good defender. In his ten games in the postseason, the 23-year-old is holding opponents to 13.2 percentage points less than their usual shooting percentage from less than six-feet out. Of course, Dwane Casey can also opt to go a bit smaller (weight wise) since he has a number of guys at his disposal who can get the job done. Both Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola received some minutes at center in Game 3, and that might be the play if Miami is playing small once again. Highlights: Game 3 Game Notes: Dwyane Wade leads the HEAT in points (21.2) and assists (4.6) per game in the postseason. Kyle Lowry leads the Raptors in assists (6.7) and steals (1.6) per contest in the playoffs. Hassan Whiteside is officially listed as questionable with a sprained right MCL. Jonas Valanciunas will miss the remainder of the Eastern Conference Semifinals with a sprained right ankle.
  7. Photo Credit: Joe Murphy The Miami HEAT fell to the Toronto Raptors 95-91 Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Dwyane Wade led the way for the HEAT with 38 points. Toronto now leads the series 2-1. Click here for the full recap on HEAT.com.
  8. Photo Credit: Oscar Baldizon The Miami HEAT host the Toronto Raptors Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The HEAT fell to the Raptors 96-92 in Game 2 on May 5, which tied the series at one game apiece. Tip-off is set for 5:00 PM and television coverage is on ESPN, although you can log on to HEAT.com for an exclusive one-hour pre-game show. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket. 1: In what aspect did Miami fall short in Game 2? Couper Moorhead: It was the extra possessions that hurt Miami the most as they tried to steal a second game on the road. Committing 21 turnovers is always going to shrink your margin for error, regardless of opponent, but allowing an additional 13 offensive rebounds means you’re essentially going to have to be perfect to make up for the difference in chances. Miami almost pulled off ‘perfect’ in Game 2, or at least as much as ‘perfect’ a game in which both teams are shooting primarily off-dribble jumpers will allow, as they shot about 50 percent from the field, but the difference in the game was still quite literally the giveaways in the open floor and on the glass. Joe Beguiristain: Miami simply committed too many turnovers on Thursday night. In fact, the HEAT had 11 turnovers in the first quarter alone, which turned into 14 points for the Raptors. It’s hard to win any game when you have that many errors, yet alone a playoff battle on the road. That said, Miami once again showed grit like in Game 1 and continued to plug away. In particular, Joe Johnson and Dwyane Wade had superb third quarters, while Goran Dragic hit a clutch 3-pointer near the end of regulation for the second straight contest. While it ultimately wasn’t enough, the HEAT still gave themselves a chance to come away with the win. That in it of itself was quite impressive. 2: Based on the two games in Toronto, what to do expect to be a major part of the game tonight? Couper: Neither team has executed particularly well on offense so far, with 40 percent of the shots in this series being off-dribble jumpers and both teams regularly going into the end of the shot-clock, and a change of venue could change the speed and tempo of an otherwise slow, grind-it-out matchup. Games have been played in Toronto’s style so far, with both teams taking a win based on making tough shots (and those extra possessions we talked about), so it can only help Miami to get the speed of the game up on their home floor and get the ball moving again. Joe: I expect Miami to keep up its sharp play defensively. While Toronto isn’t a team that moves the ball all that much (ranked second-to-last in assists per game for the regular season), the HEAT are still zeroing-in on the defensive end. Now, it’d be foolish to think that DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry will continue to shoot a combined 34.6 percent from the field, but Miami is certainly capable of making things tough for them. Not to mention, the HEAT are almost a different team at home. They thrive off the crowd’s energy and usually turn that into a faster pace. We’ll see what the change in scenery does for both teams. 3: Do you see any adjustments coming for either team? Couper: Even after winning Game 2 there may be cause for Toronto to change up its starting lineup. Dwane Casey was somewhat coy about his lineup before the second matchup, which led to some speculation that he was going with a different group until a late pre-game report revealed that everything was staying the same. But considering Norman Powell only played about nine minutes in Game 2, it’s possible Game 3 could be different – with everyone from Indiana-series starter Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross and James Johnson a possibility. On the HEAT’s side of things, just cleaning up their overall execution can be the greatest adjustment they can make. The Raptors’ primary defensive weakness in the regular season was giving up spot-up and catch-and-shoot opportunities – possessions Miami can earn just by playing the way they are meant to play. Joe: Going back to my previous response about DeRozan’s struggles, perhaps Dwane Casey will try and get him to move off the ball more. A decent amount of the 26-year-old’s actions are either iso’s or attacks off the pick-and-roll with Jonas Valanciunas. Perhaps more back screens or pin-downs could free DeRozan up for better looks. That said, it could also just be a matter of him missing shots he usually makes. For Miami, it would be great to play a little faster like it did in Game 1. If the team continues to get stops, there’s no reason why it can’t get out in transition for some easy buckets. Highlights: Game 2 Game Notes: Miami is 3-1 at home during the postseason. Since Game 7 against the Hornets, Goran Dragic is averaging 23.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per contest on 59.2 percent shooting, including 63.6 percent from three-point range. DeMar DeRozan leads the Raptors in playoff scoring at 18.6 points per game.
  9. Photo Credit: Vaughn Ridley The Miami HEAT fell to the Toronto Raptors 96-92 in overtime Thursday night at Air Canada Centre in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Goran Dragic led the way for the HEAT with 20 points. The series is now tied at one game apiece. Click here for the full recap on HEAT.com.
  10. Photo Credit: Vaughn Ridley The Miami HEAT face the Toronto Raptors Thursday night at Air Canada Centre in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The HEAT defeated the Raptors 102-96 in Game 1 on May 3. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM and television coverage is on ESPN, although you can log on to HEAT.com for an exclusive one-hour pre-game show. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket. 1: Despite the issues at the end of the game, what were the HEAT able to do in Game 1 that impressed you? Couper Moorhead: While the offense did enough to pull out the overtime victory, it was the offense Miami forced Toronto into that was most impressive. After some early actions involving Jonas Valanciunas the Raptors never seemed to sustain much of a rhythm and by the end of the game everything was an isolation or pick-and-roll for DeMar DeRozan. Miami didn’t have to stay attached to shooters in the same way they did with the Charlotte Hornets, and that extra presence in the paint helped keep DeRozan contained to jumpers off the dribble. All that said, it’s very clear that Kyle Lowry isn’t playing his usual game. If he were, the Raptors would be a much more dynamic offense and the HEAT wouldn’t be able to key in on the same actions. But unless Lowry turns things around, and we would still expect him to do so, the HEAT would do well to repeat their Game 1 defense. Joe Beguiristain: That HEAT’s ability to push the pace for a majority of the game is what really impressed me. Naturally, Goran Dragic made a number of nice plays in transition and had an offensive explosion in the third quarter. Of course, Miami’s strong play on the defensive end fueled the fire. In all, the HEAT scored 16 points off the Raptors’ 15 turnovers. Luol Deng led the team with four steals, but Dwyane Wade wasn’t far off with three of his own, including the game-sealing steal with 4.9 seconds left in overtime. Even when Miami wasn’t getting in the passing lanes, it stifled Toronto’s offense and made it one-dimensional. With Kyle Lowry continuing to struggle, the team focused on stopping DeMar DeRozan. The dynamic 26-year-old worked for everything he got, as the HEAT had Deng and Joe Johnson defend him at certain points throughout the contest. As a result, DeRozan finished the game just 9-of-22 from the field for his 22 points. It’ll be tough, but that’s the kind of defensive effort you need on the road in the playoffs, especially when the home team is already down 1-0. 2: Regarding what happened toward the end of the game, is there anything in particular Miami needs to clean up? Couper: Despite another bout of great shot-making from the veterans – talents which have won a few less-than-pretty games already – the HEAT should still strive for better looks than they were getting. The Raptors can pack the paint, but they rely a bit more on size and athleticism than the precision of the Hornets, so there should be opportunities available if the execution and spacing improves. That’s a bit of a generality, but sometimes you just need to be better and the HEAT have plenty on offense that they can tighten up. Joe: Quite simply, Miami just needs to take better care of the ball down the stretch. While Wade was fantastic on both ends in the fourth quarter and overtime period combined, the team as a whole had some turnovers that really could have swung things the other way. Luckily, the HEAT overcame them thanks to stifling defense, but those kinds of costly turnovers late in a game are not something you want to become a pattern. At the end of the day, Miami’s grit and resolve in the face of adversity was quite impressive. That’s what separates the good teams from the great teams. 3: Did either team reveal a particular advantage that needs to be addressed in Game 2? Couper: On the Raptors side, it was the Valanciunas-DeRozan side pick-and-roll that gave Miami a few problems. It didn’t expose any holes in coverage and Miami covered it better as the game wore on, but it’s a look we’ll see again because DeRozan was able to make some plays out of it. For Miami, the most eye-opening matchup was that of Joe Johnson and DeMarre Carroll. Carroll has held his own against LeBron James before, so it was surprising to see Johnson back him down and score with such ease. It may have just been a bad night for Carroll, but if things continue as they did in Game 1 that could force a double team, which would give Johnson options for the kick-out. Joe: For the HEAT, Wade had his way with rookie Norman Powell, who guarded him for a majority of the contest. While you may think that is to be expected, Powell defended Paul George pretty well in the first round. Wade also did damage against Terrence Ross and Cory Joseph thanks to some solid screens from his teammates. We’ll see if the Raptors defend the future Hall-of-Famer any differently in Game 2. In terms of Toronto, the team made things tough on Hassan Whiteside. They limited his damage in the pick-and-roll by packing the paint and made the talented big man catch the ball a little out of his range. Still, Whiteside found a way to make an impact and grabbed 17 boards on Tuesday night. Highlights: Game 1 Game Notes: Dwyane Wade has scored at least 20 points in 15 straight games in Toronto. Wade is leading Miami with 19.6 points, 4.9 assists and 0.9 steals per game in the postseason. DeMar DeRozan leads Toronto in scoring during the playoffs at 18.4 points per contest. Chris Bosh is officially listed as out for the remainder of the postseason.
  11. Photo Credit: Dave Sandford The Miami HEAT defeated the Toronto Raptors 102-96 in overtime Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Goran Dragic led the way for the HEAT with 26 points. Miami now leads the series 1-0. Click here for the full recap on HEAT.com.
  12. Photo Credit: Ron Turenne The Miami HEAT face the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The HEAT fell to the Raptors 112-104 in their last meeting on March 12. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM and television coverage is on TNT, although you can log on to HEAT.com for an exclusive one-hour pre-game show. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket. 1: The Raptors have two players that keep their offense scoring. How can Miami defend DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry? Couper Moorhead: It’s all about the pick-and-roll with these two. DeRozan and Lowry were two of the league’s most consistent attackers off the dribble this year, each of them capable of getting to the rim or pulling up for a jumper while being prolific in their abilities to draw fouls. It should almost go without saying that Miami will need to reduce its fouls from the Charlotte series to keep DeRozan and Lowry from earning easy points. Otherwise, much of the responsibility will fall on Hassan Whiteside – just as it did against the Hornets. While both of Toronto’s attackers are capable from the perimeter – with Lowry the only one likely to pullup from three – their efficiency depends on getting to the rim. If Whiteside can contain the paint as well as he recently did in Game 7 and Miami’s guard and wing defenders can consistently get around screens, then Toronto could become heavily reliant on jumpers as Charlotte was when Miami defended at its best. That doesn’t mean open jumpers off the catch, however. With the exception of Cory Joseph the Raptors rotation is littered with more-than-capable spot-up shooters. So, again as with Charlotte, the HEAT won’t have the luxury of sending too much help into the paint. Joe Beguiristain: DeRozan and Lowry pose the same challenges that Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin did in the first round. It’s easier said than done, but Miami will have to try and limit both guards from getting into the paint as much as possible. DeRozan uses his quickness to get to the rack, while Lowry simply bullies his way to the cup. Although the backcourt duo struggled mightily from the field against the Pacers (combined to shoot 31.8 percent in the seven-game series), both made plays when the team needed them the most. Case in point: DeRozan scored 13 points in the third quarter of Game 7 to swing momentum back to the Raptors. Lowry, meanwhile, continued to set up his teammates for good looks off the drive-and-kick. While DeRozan can shoot the mid-range jumper, Lowry is more lethal from beyond the arc. With that in mind, the HEAT’s guards will have to fight hard through screens on the pick-and-roll like in Game 7 against the Hornets. Still, much of the onus will be on Hassan Whiteside to make Toronto’s guards second-guess their approach. If Whiteside can stay out of foul trouble and protect the rim, Miami will make things much tougher on the Raptors. 2: What can Miami expect to see from Toronto defensively? Couper: The Raptors use Jonas Valanciunas much in the same way that Miami uses Whiteside – playing back in the pick-and-roll to seal off the paint. That’s fairly typical coverage and nothing Miami hasn’t seen before, though in Lowry the Raptors have a strong, quick guard who can keep the ball in front and navigate screens which could make it difficult for Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade (in possible cross-matches) to get into the paint. But it’s not all a conservative approach. With Patrick Patterson now starting in place of Luis Scola the Raptors are a little more dynamic in their schematic approach, with Patterson capable of playing the ball a little more aggressively when its called for. Miami will also have to be wary of Toronto’s size and athleticism. Where they had mismatch advantages when Charlotte had Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin on the floor at the same time, Toronto has taller and longer defenders which will require a different approach than brute force in the post. There’s also no Frank Kaminsky matchup for Luol Deng this time around. Joe: After facing a very disciplined defensive team in the Hornets, the HEAT find themselves in similar territory with Toronto. The Raptors finished eleventh in defensive efficiency rating for the regular season, just two spots behind Charlotte. That said, Toronto has more players who can wreak havoc on defense. As I stated in my previous response, Lowry is a bullish point guard, and that isn’t just exclusive to the offensive end. Additionally, the Raptors boast solid perimeter defenders in DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson to go along with rim-protecting bigs Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo. You also can’t forget about emerging rookie, Norman Powell. With a slew of athletic wings on the other side, ball movement will be critical for Miami. We all know what Carroll can do, but Powell turned some heads in the first round with some solid defense on Paul George at certain points. In terms of the battle inside, it'll be beneficial for the HEAT to attack the basket and try and get Valanciunas into some early foul trouble. We’ll see how it all pans out on Tuesday night. 3: Where will Miami be able to give itself its greatest advantage in this series? Couper: On the defensive end. There’s no homecourt advantage this time around and the HEAT generally score more efficiently at home – not to mention the Raptors may attempt the same paint-packing scheme that Charlotte just used to extend the previous series to seven games. So, Miami is going to have to find a way to win a game on the road and that path usually leads you towards getting stops. Killing the spot-up game while containing the pick-and-roll is key, but you also have to be aware that Toronto – while one of the slowest teams in the league – is a dynamic transition scoring team if you commit turnovers or don’t get back off misses. In a series that could turn to a slow, grind-it-out style of play there won’t be much margin for error when it comes to giving your opponent extra possessions and easy baskets. Joe: I agree with Coup. When Miami defends at the level it is capable of, it is very tough to beat. If the HEAT can force DeRozan and Lowry into tough outside shots thanks to solid perimeter defense and Whiteside’s presence inside, they will have a good chance at stealing home-court in one of these first two games. It should also be noted that Toronto averaged 13.9 turnovers per game in the first round, which is a little higher than its regular season rate. For comparison’s sake, the Hornets only committed 9.4 a game. Despite that, Miami still got out in transition periodically by forcing misses. Hopefully the HEAT can get to that more often in this series. Highlights: March 12 Game Notes: The Raptors won the regular season series with the HEAT, 3-1. Miami has won at least one road game in 17 straight postseason series, which is the longest steak in NBA history. Hassan Whiteside leads the HEAT in rebounds (11.4) and blocks (3.4) per game for the postseason. DeMar DeRozan leads Toronto in points (17.9) and steals (1.6) per contest in the playoffs.
  13. Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon The Miami HEAT defeated the Charlotte Hornets 106-73 Sunday afternoon at AmericanAirlines Arena in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round. Goran Dragic led the way for the HEAT with 25 points. With the win, Miami advances to the next round. Click here for the full recap on HEAT.com.
  14. Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon The Miami HEAT host the Charlotte Hornets Sunday afternoon at AmericanAirlines Arena in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round. The HEAT defeated the Hornets 97-90 in Game 6, which evened the series 3-3. Tip-off is set for 1:00 PM and television coverage is on ABC. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket. 1: What’s one thing the HEAT did exceptionally well to save their season in Charlotte? Couper Moorhead: This is the simplest point we could make, but the HEAT simply made shots. They shot 60 percent in the first half, including 4-of-5 from downtown, and in the final minutes they got a dose of the spectacular from Dwyane Wade as he hit his first two threes since last December. There was of course dozens of small energy plays, including some timely charges taken, that put Miami in position to benefit from Wade’s late shots, but making shots is really the only counter to Charlotte’s extreme paint-packing tactics. Joe Beguiristain: They corrected their mistakes from Games 4 and 5 and executed down the stretch. In particular, Dwyane Wade answered the call and did what he’s always done throughout his illustrious career. By now you may have heard that Wade led the charge in the fourth quarter with 10 points, two blocks and a steal to force a Game 7. Otherwise, Miami competed hard through the first three quarters and weathered a few early storms on the road. While Kemba Walker again had a fantastic night (37 points and five assists), the HEAT held everyone else to a combined 39.1 percent shooting. Luol Deng, Udonis Haslem and Justise Winslow came up big on the defensive end and made nothing come easy for Charlotte. It will take that kind of collective effort one more time to come away victorious on Sunday afternoon. 2: Will Miami be able to win Game 7 in the same fashion of Game 6? Couper: They’ll have to, in terms of making the relatively open jumpers that Charlotte has been conceding. But chances are they won’t be able to count on Wade making threes down the stretch – at least not as long as the Hornets are playing such stout individual defense. Nor will they be able to count on getting Hassan Whiteside a ton of touches near the rim with so many bodies swarming him on every roll. The good news is that Goran Dragic went on a run of his own in the third quarter and kept Miami’s offense scoring just enough to hold on to a small lead. Miami has been able to get out in transition more often over the past two games – something that could help them break open a quarter on Sunday – but seeing Dragic score in the half-court should be very encouraging moving forward. As for everything else, it should go without saying that the HEAT have to play with the same energy and attention to detail in Game 7. We can talk tactics and strategy all night, but the series is going to go to the more competitive team. Joe: It’ll certainly be tough, but that comes with the territory of Game 7. Wade has now had two great performances in a row, so we’ll see if he can continue his hot streak. That said, Miami has guys who can certainly help Wade shoulder the scoring load. Deng has been lights out from downtown in this series (51.4 percent), while Goran Dragic seemed to re-gain his stride in the second half of Game 6. Deng is making the most of his opportunities and taking what the Hornets are giving him. Dragic, meanwhile, got to the cup and hit some of his usual mid-range jumpers off screens his last time out. The Slovenian’s potential resurgence could swing the series in the HEAT’s favor. Still, it will likely come down to the defensive end for Miami. If the team can continue to limit Charlotte from distance, things should be fine. 3: Is there anything left for either team to change? How could Josh Richardson’s status affect things? Couper: You might see a couple tweaks here and there – the HEAT sent a little extra help towards Kemba Walker in pick-and-roll after he was clearly rolling – but the schemes aren’t going to change much unless there some sudden loss of faith on either side. That said, Josh Richardson’s availability could force Erik Spoelstra to change. Richardson has been Miami primary defensive weapon against Walker while still being a capable floor-spacer. If Richardson’s shoulder injury keeps him out then the HEAT have to explore other solutions – which could include heavier minutes for Justise Winslow. And remember, Nicolas Batum is listed as questionable. Miami may be down a key defender, but Charlotte could be without one of its best playmakers. Joe: At this point, I don’t believe there is much to change for either team. It’s simply about who wants it more. Other than the first three games of this series, we’ve had some extremely close contests that have gone down to the wire. It’s in those moments where you trust your instincts and simply stick to what works. However, there are some injuries that can have an impact in Game 7. Both Josh Richardson and Nicolas Batum are listed as questionable for Sunday. Richardson suffered a left shoulder strain in Game 6, while Batum didn’t play in the second half due to problems with his strained left foot. If Richardson can’t go, that might pave the way for a Tyler Johnson return. If Batum sits, the Hornets will be missing a key component, but the team has adapted well without him. Highlights: Game 6 Game Notes: Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem are 4-2 all-time in Game 7’s. Wade leads the HEAT in points (20.2), assists (5.7) and steals (0.7) per game this postseason. Kemba Walker leads the Hornets in points (25.0), assists (3.7), steals (1.3) and blocks (0.7) per contest in the playoffs. Josh Richardson (left shoulder strain) is listed as questionable.
  15. Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka The Miami HEAT defeated the Charlotte Hornets 97-90 Friday night at Time Warner Cable Arena in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round. Dwyane Wade led the way for the HEAT with 23 points and four assists. The series is now tied 3-3. Click here for the full recap on HEAT.com.
  16. Photo Credit: Kent Smith The Miami HEAT face the Charlotte Hornets Friday night at Time Warner Cable Arena in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round. The HEAT fell to the Hornets 90-88 in Game 5, which gave Charlotte a 3-2 advantage in the series. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket. 1: What did Charlotte do to take the win in Miami on Wednesday night? Couper Moorhead: You have to give them credit as Charlotte played a very good, very poised game on the road. The HEAT were mixing in all sorts of coverages while still playing tight on the perimeter and the Hornets guards could have been thrown out of sorts by those moves. Instead, they adapted on the fly and started playing less for the drive – as they were doing in pick-and-roll with Miami shutting off three – and hunting for Miami’s rotation so they could get off some threes. The margins were still incredibly narrow. It wasn’t as though the Hornets found some magical solution, they just executed well enough to buy their shooters enough space. And their shooters made shots. With how well both teams are defending, that was all it took for Charlotte to take the 3-2 series lead. Well, that and another timely offensive rebound. Joe Beguiristain: While the Hornets shot just 39.3 percent for the game, they made timely buckets down the stretch to obtain the victory. The biggest shot of the night was a 3-pointer from Courtney Lee that gave Charlotte a two-point lead with 25.2 seconds left. Just before the shot, Lee obtained an offensive rebound to keep his team’s possession alive. Overall, the HEAT kept Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin at bay after the duo played well in Charlotte. But Lee, Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams proved to be the difference in Game 5. On the flip side of the ball, the Hornets did a nice job on the defensive end and continued to pack the paint. That said, Dwyane Wade still had a masterful performance and scored 25-points on 11-of-19 shooting. He also made a nice play in defensive transition to force a miss from Lee at the rim, but it unfortunately wasn’t enough this time around. 2: What will the HEAT need to improve tonight? Couper: They just need to shrink those aforementioned margins and come up with more loose balls. While the HEAT tweaked a few things in Game 5, neither team is going to make a dramatic scheme shift at this point in the series. The HEAT are still going to try to take away Charlotte’s three while limiting their paint penetration as much as possible – they just have to do a better job of managing that balancing act. But as both coaches have said multiple times, this series is so even and so competitive that games are coming down to who can perfect the details and come up with the most energy plays. Some of the shooting Miami had in Games 1 and 2 would be nice, but shooting alone isn’t going to carry them on the road. They have to fight for every ball and then have the energy to push in transition as much as possible. Joe: Miami will need to get things going on the offensive end. That includes taking better care of the ball than it has for the past three games. Case in point: the HEAT committed 14 turnovers in Game 5, which led to 16 points for the Hornets. In a series like this with two evenly matched teams, that can make all the difference between winning and losing. As been the case all season, Miami was at its best Wednesday night when getting out in transition. If the team can play faster on the road in a hostile environment, it will have a great chance at forcing a Game 7. Of course, pushing the pace is all predicated on playing good defense and either forcing misses or turnovers. Based on how the HEAT have fared defensively in this series — forcing Charlotte to shoot just 40.7 percent — all should be fine. 3: Who could have a big game tonight to move the series back to Miami? Couper: I’m going with Goran Dragic here. Joe Johnson and Luol Deng could certainly get hot from three given how much Charlotte is rotating help into the paint – and some of Miami’s best looks have been swing passes to shooters created by pick-and-roll spacing – but the best thing Miami had going for it in Game 5 was the increased emphasis on pace after the team had zero fast-break points in Game 4. Dragic still had a tough shooting night, but he’s the straw that stirs the drink for Miami’s up-tempo ideals and if Dragic can lead 10-15 fast-breaks on the road that will go a long way for Miami’s offense. Joe: I believe Luol Deng could be in for a big night in Charlotte. After some torrid shooting performances in Games 1 through 3, Deng has cooled off a bit. That said, the 31-year-old is still getting great looks from the perimeter thanks to the Hornets’ commitment to not give up anything inside. While Charlotte has done a nice job of protecting the paint, Deng has used head-fakes and shot-fakes to get to the basket when his defender closes out aggressively. On the defensive end, the former Blue Devil should be just as impactful. In fact, Deng tallied a 96.7 defensive efficiency rating in the last two games. We’ll see if the vet can keep up his strong play in a "do-or-die" Game 6. Highlights: Game 5 Game Notes: Miami is 5-1 in its last six games when facing elimination. Dwyane Wade leads the HEAT in points (19.6) and assists (6.0) per game in the postseason. Kemba Walker leads the Hornets in points (22.6), assists (3.4), steals (1.2) and blocks (0.8) per contest in the playoffs.
  17. Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon The Miami HEAT fell to the Charlotte Hornets 90-88 Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round. Dwyane Wade led the way for the HEAT with 25 points. Charlotte now leads the series 3-2. Click here for the full recap on HEAT.com.
  18. Photo Credit: Jesse D. Garrabrant The Miami HEAT host the Charlotte Hornets Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round. The HEAT fell to the Hornets 89-85 in Game 4 on April 25, which tied the series at two games apiece. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket. 1: What can you take away from Miami’s late runs in an eventual Game 4 loss in Charlotte? Couper Moorhead: That sometimes you need to just make shots. Yes, Miami made some aggressive defensive plays in pick-and-roll and managed to force a couple rare turnovers out of the Hornets, but both those stretches were as much about the HEAT finding a way to get the ball in the hole as anything else. The shots have only gotten tougher as the series has progressed, which is what the playoffs are all about, and when both teams are so incredibly tuned in to what the other is trying to do, sometimes things just come down to the ‘make or miss league’ descriptor you hear coaches use this time of year. Joe Beguiristain: The late runs by Miami — in particular the 17-1 run in the middle of the third quarter — were great to see. While you obviously don’t want to be in a huge hole, the HEAT showed resolve to cut Charlotte’s lead multiple times in the second half. That in itself was my main takeaway. In similar situations previously, Miami didn’t get that close to coming away with the win. This time around, though, Joe Johnson hit some timely buckets (10 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the second half) and the team as a whole held the Hornets to just 38.2 percent shooting after halftime. If it weren’t for some huge offensive rebounds by Courtney Lee in the final minute of the game, we could be talking about a different outcome. 2: Where do you expect the HEAT to focus on improving for Game 5? Couper: While many have likely focused on Miami’s struggles to score in their two games in Charlotte after being volcano hot in the first leg of the series, what the HEAT can most directly control is their defense – a defense that has given up 96 points in the paint to the Hornets over the past two games. That is partly by design, of course. Miami is shutting off all passing lanes to the perimeter in order to shut down a high-powered offense, so the players defending pick-and-rolls in the middle of the floor are largely on their own to contain the ball and keep it out of the paint. That’s a tall order for anyone but Charlotte has adjusted to the HEAT’s coverage and is attacking the rim relentlessly, which has led to them earning points at the free-throw line in bunches. There’s no easy solution here. How do you shut down the paint while still keeping the other team off the line? That’s the question Miami is trying to answer, and they’ll need to find a better balance in order to win two of the next three. Joe: Like I stated in our last preview, I believe the HEAT should focus on their pick-and-roll defense. Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin attacked downhill for most of Game 4 and combined for 55 points on 19-of-38 shooting. That said, Miami kept everyone else in check for the most part and didn’t let the Hornets get hot from beyond the arc. Speaking of which, it seems as though there has been a little role reversal in this series. Charlotte has primarily scored in the paint, while the HEAT have taken 18 more 3-pointers than the Hornets through the first four games. As Coach Spo mentioned after practice on Tuesday, “They’re playing a little bit more like we’ve played and we’re playing a little bit more like how they’ve played. But again, [whoever] can remain most true to who’ve they’ve been all year long probably has the best chance. But if it’s not working out that way, you’ve got to figure it out regardless.” Figuring it out defensively and improving on that end will certainly open up a lot of things for Miami. Rather than take the ball out of the net, the HEAT can push it down court for some better looks in transition. It’s no secret that Goran Dragic thrives in the open court, so hopefully Miami can play a little faster in Game 5. 3: If Batum is cleared to play, how will he affect the rest of the series? Couper: The Hornets seem to be in wait-and-see mode with Batum, but his possible return to this now-extended series poses an interesting question for Charlotte. Batum has been such a large part of what they do, but with the team having success with the big starting lineup of Frank Kaminsky and Al Jefferson, would Steve Clifford consider bringing Batum off the bench where he could be a pick-and-roll playmaker with Tyler Zeller? Again, no simple answer there, but the direction Clifford chooses could very well tilt the scales of the series. Joe: A possible return for Batum could have a major impact on this series. The whole reason why Charlotte opted to play bigger with Frank Kaminsky and Al Jefferson in the frontcourt was because of the injury to Batum. With the Hornets doing very well with that starting unit, Steve Clifford certainly has a tough decision to make. While the team had two great games with Kaminsky and Jefferson, Batum has been a part of the starting lineup all season. The Frenchman made progress in shootaround on Wednesday morning, so we'll see if he suits up for Game 5. Highlights: Game 4 Game Notes: The HEAT won the first two games of this series at home by a combined margin of 44 points. Luol Deng leads Miami in postseason scoring at 20.3 points per game. Kemba Walker leads Charlotte in points (24.8), assists (3.0), steals (1.5) and blocks (0.8) per contest in the playoffs.
  19. Photo Credit: Kent Smith The Miami HEAT fell to the Charlotte Hornets 89-85 Monday night at Time Warner Cable Arena in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round. Joe Johnson led the way for the HEAT with 16 points. The series is now tied at two games apiece. Click here for the full recap on HEAT.com.
  20. Photo Credit: Kent Smith The Miami HEAT face the Charlotte Hornets Monday night at Time Warner Cable Arena in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round. The HEAT fell to the Hornets 96-80 in Game 3 on April 23. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 6:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket. 1: What were the Hornets able to do so well during that third-quarter run? Couper Moorhead: Charlotte used a surge of energy to break the game open with an 18-0 run, with much of that offense coming from Franky Kaminsky. The Kaminsky-Luol Deng matchup had gone Deng’s way in the first half, but with Goran Dragic in foul trouble Dragic was switched onto Courtney Lee, which meant Deng defending Kemba Walker and Dwyane Wade drawing the Kaminsky assignment. While Kaminsky typically isn’t a high-usage post-up player, he was able to use his size advantage on Wade and later Justise Winslow to get comfortable shots around the paint. And with Miami struggling to score, including missing on some open opportunities, that burst from Kaminsky changed the entire game – as things were then capped off by a Jeremy Lin three in transition. Joe Beguiristain: Thanks to a fantastic start from Luol Deng, the HEAT kept it close throughout the first half. However, the Hornets amped things up in the third quarter and really gained some momentum. In particular, Jeremy Lin and Frank Kaminsky caused some problems for Miami. Kaminsky scored 13 of his 15 points in the third, as he had some success inside against Dwyane Wade. While Deng fared well against the rookie earlier in the contest, he defended Kemba Walker for a majority of the second half. That inhibited Walker from getting going — he had just eight points on 2-of-14 shooting after halftime — but others were able to contribute. On the flip side of the ball, Charlotte did a great job of packing the paint and making the HEAT take tough shots from the perimeter. Miami continued to plug away in the fourth, but it just wasn’t enough in the end. 2: Where does Miami need to improve defensively for Game 4? Couper: At practice on Sunday Erik Spoelstra spoke about the need to be better in one-on-one scenarios – actions that aren’t necessarily set plays or calls, just one player getting aggressive with the ball. Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin had many drives between them, but it’s dribble-drives, back-cuts and finishes from Marvin Williams, Courtney Lee and Frank Kaminsky that really eat into your defensive efficiency because they are typically plays that occur after you’ve taken away everything you’re supposed to. Like the Hornets were saying after the first two games, the HEAT don’t necessarily need to reevaluate all their coverages. They just need to do what they do and do it better, which includes fundamental defensive principles in the open floor. Joe: Based on how Game 3 went, especially in that third quarter, you might be surprised that the Hornets shot just 38.9 percent overall. While the HEAT didn’t do themselves any favors by shooting 34.2 percent, the point is the team’s defense wasn’t as off as one might believe. That said, Miami can improve its pick-and-roll coverages. A few of Lin’s drives to the basket were off good screens by Cody Zeller. In turn, that allowed the guard to get into a rhythm early on. Walker, meanwhile, didn’t use that many screens to get free, but his dribble penetration still caused the defense to collapse at times. In order to combat that, the HEAT need to be disciplined on the defensive end and more sharp with their on-ball defense. 3: Do you foresee Miami making any changes with Charlotte now playing with big lineups? Couper: The HEAT probably aren’t going to change who they are and what they’ve been successful with after one loss. Remember, Charlotte’s changes came about because of an injury with Nicolas Batum. If Batum were healthy, they would likely be playing with the same lineups. For Miami to go big, they would have to start playing lineups that effectively haven’t seen the court all season. Really, nothing has changed here. Playoff games are decided by which team can get to their game more often. Miami’s game hasn’t changed. Joe: I don’t believe so, simply because there really isn’t anyone else to go to outside of Miami’s two main bigs. Hassan Whiteside has had a lot of success in this series as the starter, while Amar’e Stoudemire provides a good pick-and-roll threat for the HEAT’s guards off the bench. Not to mention, Deng at the four has worked quite well since the All-Star break, so there really is no point in changing that now. In fact, the former Blue Devil is actually leading the team in scoring throughout the first three games of the postseason. Highlights: Game 3 Game Notes: Luol Deng leads the HEAT in scoring for the postseason with 22.0 points per game. Kemba Walker leads Charlotte in points (21.7), assists (3.7) and steals (1.0) per contest in the playoffs. Hassan Whiteside has recorded a double-double in each of his first three postseason games.
  21. Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon The Miami HEAT defeated the Charlotte Hornets 115-103 Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round. Dwyane Wade led the way for the HEAT with 28 points. Miami now leads the series 2-0. Click here for the full recap on HEAT.com.
  22. By Dylan Barmmer Few people expected this from Norris Cole. When the HEAT capped their franchise record-setting and NBA-leading 2012-13 regular season by winning 37 of their final 39 games, including 27 straight at one point, Cole's professionalism, passion and play backing up Mario Chalmers at the point turned heads and opened eyes among HEAT fans while earning accolades from his coaches. And with Chalmers slowed by an ankle injury during the season's final month, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Cole did produce a few strong stat lines in spot starter duty. The highlight came in a 96-95 HEAT win at Cleveland on April 15, when the former Cleveland State star and Dayton, Ohio native nearly notched a triple-double with season-highs of 16 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists to lead his injury-depleted team to their 65th win. In 4 total starts on the season, Cole averaged a solid 13.0 points, 5.8 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals. Still, it was his seemingly endless energy, determined defense and infectious passion that served as the 24-year-old Cole's calling cards in his second NBA season, not his offensive acumen. Given a full training camp to work with for the first time, and often sharing a backcourt with the epitome of a professional and pure scorer in reserve shooting guard Ray Allen, Cole improved his statistics in nearly every offensive category. But Cole's 5.6 points a game, 42.1-percent shooting from the field and 35.7 percent from 3-point range over 80 games suggested more of a player still rounding out his offensive form than it did a dead-eyed and deadly offensive assassin. Even in that signature game at Cleveland, Cole's biggest play came on defense, when he shadowed, suffocated and then stuffed lightning-quick guard Kyrie Irving on the Cavaliers' final possession. The brilliant block-and-steal play sealed that narrow 96-95 win and humbled a fellow second-year standout who earned NBA Rookie of the Year honors by averaging 18.5 points and 5.4 assists per game in the 2011-12 season. But as their brilliant regular season gave way to the 2013 NBA Playoffs, and the HEAT kicked off their NBA Championship title defense run in the postseason, Cole has shot out of the gate guns blazing, averaging 8.8 points while shooting a sizzling 60.4 percent from the field and a remarkable 68.8 percent from behind the 3-point line (drilling 11 of 16 attempts from long-range) over the HEAT's first 9 playoff games. Cole is the fifth-leading scorer for the HEAT so far in the playoffs, and his postseason point production has come coupled with averages of 2.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 0.8 steals – while averaging 22.1 minutes off the HEAT bench. In short, Cole's all-around play is a big reason for the HEAT's 8-1 record in 9 postseason games. And his scoring has been especially impactful. Cole's offensive improvement and ultra-efficiency was especially notable and valuable in the HEAT's Eastern Conference Semifinals series win over the gritty, grinding Chicago Bulls. Cole scored 7 or more points in 4 of the 5 games in that series, including a playoff-career-high 18 points in back-to-back HEAT wins in Games 2 and 3. Cole hit 20 of 29 shots from the field in that series, including a near-perfect 9 of 11 from long-range (he was a flawless 8-for-8 through the first 3 games), and his offensive output helped neutralize the production of Bulls point guard Nate Robinson, who exploded for a game-high 27 points in the Bulls' 93-86 Game 1 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena and scored at least 17 points in 3 of the series' 5 games. The big showings in Games 2 and 3 were also pivotal in shaping the series' outcome, as the Bulls surprisingly grabbed control of the narrative with that Game 1 win, and Dwyane Wade was battling right knee soreness that hampered his overall explosiveness and usual offensive output. Cole led the HEAT with 9 3-point hits in the series, outpacing primary long-range snipers Shane Battier (8) and Ray Allen (4). The fact that he managed to do that on just 11 attempts from behind the arc is even more noteworthy. Of course, Cole also played his customary lock-down defense for much of the series, and helped hold the previously hot Robinson scoreless on 0-for-12 shooting in an 88-65 win in Game 4. But when the dust cleared on the HEAT's 5-game series win, it was Cole's fearless attacking and dead-eye shooting that stood out – and got NBA observers everywhere talking about the tough-minded guard's evolving overall game. It's hard to be much more efficient than the 69 percent from the field and eye-popping 81.8 percent from long-range that Cole shot in that series, particularly against a physical, defense-minded opponent. And especially while coming off the bench. In other words, in a "second season" that traditionally translates to more defense and less offense, the HEAT's second-year spark plug of a point guard has defied convention, morphing from defensive-minded stopper to explosive and sweet-shooting scorer seemingly overnight. Of course, the reality is that nothing happens overnight. Especially when it comes to the demanding, grinding, heavy-lifting life of a professional athlete. No, the truth is Norris Cole has worked hard to improve all areas of his game in his second NBA season. Very, very, very hard. And the results are starting to make the HEAT even harder and harder to beat. The HEAT are now 45-3 over their last 48 games, including a sparkling 8-1 in the 2013 NBA Playoffs. That mind-boggling record is the result of contributions, sacrifice and dedication from every player on the hard-working HEAT's roster – from repeat NBA MVP LeBron James all the way down to reserve sharpshooter Mike Miller. But it's also no coincidence that Cole has been at his best during this sizzling stretch, especially on the offensive end. And especially from long-range. Cole averaged 5.2 points and hit 50.0 percent of his 3-point field goal attempts in 18 games in March, and the HEAT went 17-1 – setting not only a club record for wins in a single month, but establishing a new NBA benchmark as well. In their lone loss in March, a 101-97 defeat to the Bulls in Chicago that snapped that historic 27-game win streak, Cole was held scoreless on 2 field goal attempts and played just 11 minutes off the bench. In 9 games in April, Cole averaged 10.3 points and shot 47.6 percent from long-range, and the HEAT went 8-1, closing out their unforgettable season with an 8-game winning streak. Cole scored 11 points or more in 5 of those 9 games, and at least 8 points in all but 1 of them – a 2-point outing in a 105-93 win over those same Bulls. Cole more than atoned for his meager offensive output against the Bulls in the regular season with his explosive showing in the HEAT's recently completed playoff series, and his 11.5-point average on that absurd 69 percent overall shooting and 81.8 percent from long-distance revealed a rapidly improving and always hard-working young professional to a much wider audience. ABC analyst and former NBA coach Jeff VanGundy mentioned that HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra has repeatedly praised the toughness, work ethic and consistent demeanor of Cole, who he called "Udonis Haslem in a guard's body." Other broadcasters spoke of Cole's near-obsessive dedication to improving, including his penchant for solo shootarounds at AmericanAirlinesArena's Bayfront practice court during HEAT off days and nights, and TNT's outspoken panel of former NBA greats routinely praised Cole for his aggressiveness, efficiency and stellar two-way play. Not bad for a second-year player who ranks as the youngest member of a veteran-laden roster. Cole doesn't even turn 25 until Oct. 13, yet his outstanding playoff performances are helping the HEAT move closer and closer toward their goal of securing a second straight NBA Championship in June. If the HEAT accomplish that goal, then Cole will have played extensively in 2 NBA seasons – and have 2 Championship rings to show for it. Now that's what you call a hot start. Much like the way Cole has come blazing out of the gates here in the 2013 NBA Playoffs. And caught observers, analysts and defenders alike a good bit off guard along the way.