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By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Bill Baptist
The Miami HEAT face the Houston Rockets Wednesday night at Toyota Center. The HEAT defeated the Rockets 109-103 in their last meeting on January 17. 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 Miami clean up from their loss to Orlando on Monday night?
Couper Moorhead: There’s no one area to specify. Most of the team spoke after the game of the defense not being up to par, which it certainly was not in allowing 114 points per 100 possessions to an Orlando Magic team ranked among the bottom five in offensive rating. There was just too much in the paint, too often, coupled with Orlando grabbing 15 offensive rebounds that became too many efficient looks for Miami to overcome.
The offense wasn’t ideal, either. Shooting 6-of-22 is one thing, and not necessarily a huge negative considering a little regression is always expected after a prolonged hot streak such as the one Miami enjoyed during its winning streak, but just 14 assists on 39 made baskets is not the typical path toward success for this team. Overall it was just an off night for a team that had been playing very well earlier in the week. Against a tough opponent in Houston, we’ll see if the team can self-correct.
Joe Beguiristain: While the HEAT’s offense was stagnant at times, it was the defense that ultimately let them down on Monday night. In all, Orlando shot 48.9 percent from the field and six guys scored in double-figures. Although James Johnson did his best on Serge Ibaka down the stretch, Evan Fournier and Mario Hezonja hit some big shots in the fourth quarter to keep momentum on the Magic’s side.
On the bright side, Miami had a good day of work on Tuesday in preparation for an offensive juggernaut in the Rockets. Not to mention, a lot of guys spoke of needing to get back on track defensively, so they understand the task at hand. In particular, Goran Dragić talked about the team needing to get back to its old habits. With Wednesday being the last game before the All-Star Break, hopefully the HEAT can close things out on a positive note.
2: What worked so well for Miami last time out against the Rockets?
Couper: It was 64 points in the paint which won the game for Miami. Hassan Whiteside only had 14 points on eight shots, but a number of early lobs and catches around the paint seemed to get Houston out of its defensive flow. After those early scores, and with usual-starter Clint Capela limited in his first game back from injury, the Rockets had to go out of their way diverting extra attention to Whiteside rolling to the rim – in turn, that created a clear driving lane for Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson and James Johnson to exploit most of the evening. Anytime one of those players was able to beat their man off the dribble or turn the corner quickly out of the pick-and-roll, then they were looking at a layup more often than not.
Joe: Everything went well for Miami in that last matchup on January 17. In addition to locking-in defensively and holding Houston to just 40 percent shooting, the HEAT also found a lot of success on the offensive end. Notably, Hassan Whiteside got the party started with 11 points and eight rebounds in the first half, as he utilized his size advantage on both Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell.
Otherwise, Dragić took advantage of the Rockets’ quick pace and had a monster fourth quarter to ensure the victory for Miami. With Houston still being one of the faster teams in the league, the Slovenian should be able to race out in transition once again. Of course, that’s also predicated on the HEAT getting stops like they did the last time out. It’ll definitely be tough since the Rockets have tallied a 113.8 offensive rating over their four-game winning streak, but Miami has the wherewithal to get the job done.
3: With Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon both expected to play despite recent injuries, how could this game with Houston be different from the last?
Couper: This was the other major story from that first meeting. One of Houston’s prolific shooters, Anderson, was out with an illness and the other, Gordon, had one of his worst games of the season shooting 1-of-10 from three and 3-of-17 overall. Coupled with James Harden shooting 4-of-15 from three (and somehow still scoring 40), the Rockets shot well below their usual standards from the perimeter.
Some of that is controllable by tight rotations and sharp closeouts, but three-point defense is one of the most volatile statistical numbers in the league in that you never fully have control over it the same way you can completely shut off the paint. In other words, counting on one of the league’s best-shooting teams to shoot 23 percent from three again, with both Anderson and Gordon expected to play after practicing on Tuesday, is less a reasonable expectation and more of a luxurious bonus when it does occur.
Joe: If both guys are at the top of their game, it can really change things on Wednesday night. In that last meeting in late January, Houston shot just 9-of-39 from beyond the arc, with Eric Gordon going 1-of-10 from distance. Keep in mind that Gordon is shooting 38.7 percent from three this season on 9.2 attempts per game. Ryan Anderson, meanwhile, missed the game in Miami with the flu. Like Gordon, Anderson is an absolute sharpshooter, as he’s shooting 40.3 percent from long-range on 6.8 attempts per contest.
This is just a long way of saying that the HEAT’s perimeter defense has to be sharp if they want to come away with the win. With Anderson back in the starting lineup, you have one of the most dangerous stretch-fours in the league to go along with three other shooters and Capela. That’s tough to combat.
January 17-Rockets at HEAT
February 2-HEAT at Rockets
The HEAT have dropped two straight and are 24-32. The Rockets have won four in a row and stand at 40-17 on the year. Tyler Johnson leads Miami with 1.2 steals per game. James Harden leads Houston in points (29.1), assists (11.3) and rebounds (8.2) per contest.
HEAT Offense: 103.0 (26) HEAT Defense: 104.1 (6) Rockets Offense: 111.5 (2) Rockets Defense: 105.2 (12)