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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)
By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
The Miami HEAT host the Orlando Magic Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT fell to the Magic 136-130 in double OT in their last meeting on December 20. 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: Why did Miami’s streak come to an end in Philadelphia on Saturday?
Couper Moorhead: All winning streaks have a natural end at some point, and that point tends to be helped along by the schedule. The team will never offer up excuses, but viewing from afar it seemed fairly clear that playing on the second night of a back-to-back, at the end of a four-game trip and against an opponent that plays just as tough as Miami is known to play, the situation took its toll as the team neither shot (7-of-23 from three) nor executed (19 turnovers) at the level it had consistently shown during the 13-game winning streak. There’s nothing wrong with that, either. Every team deals with a tough schedule at times and Miami still fought to the end, with both Goran Dragic and James Johnson keeping them in the game through sheer force of will.
They way they lost should be just as important to the story of this team than the fact that they ran off 13 consecutive wins. When the HEAT were losing close games earlier this season, they were playing as hard as they could. When they started winning games, they were playing hard as they could. When they finally lost, they were still playing hard as they could, pressuring full court, trying to disrupt passing lanes and attacking loose balls. And in that loss, they lost to a team that, under coach Brett Brown, has a reputation for playing hard no matter how the season is going record-wise.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in results, but teams that can build a style and culture in both winning and losing have a great deal going for them. And now the winning streak become a story you can tell years from now, when a team with the second-worst record in the league ran off one of the more improbable, wacky, fun runs we’ve ever seen.
Joe Beguiristain: Despite no Joel Embiid or Jahlil Okafor, the 76ers had a quick start to the game and were able to sustain their high energy throughout the contest. Without the two bigs, it was all about balance for Philadelphia, as seven guys scored in double-figures thanks to 27 total assists. While Miami fought hard and narrowed the gap to single-digits a few times in the fourth quarter, it just wasn’t enough in the end. That said, there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed about since Coach Brett Brown always has his team ready regardless of who’s in or who’s out of the lineup.
When it was all said and done, the HEAT went on an historic 13-game winning streak to get right back in the playoff picture. As they say, all good things must come to an end, but the habits Miami showed on its run have been evident all season. Whether it was Goran Dragić utilizing screens well and scoring from everywhere on the floor, James Johnson handling the ball or Rodney McGruder giving maximum effort on both ends, all of those things were on display before the streak too. In other words, Miami will always play hard and compete no matter what the circumstances. That all starts with Coach Spo and his rare ability to get the best out of each and every guy on the roster. Sure, the streak is over, but there’s still a lot of games left to be played.
2: Since their double-overtime win in Miami back in December, how has Orlando’s season gone?
Couper: The Magic stuck around in the playoff race for a bit after that win – they’re still just a quick run from getting back into it, as Miami has shown – but following a return home on January 4 Orlando is 4-16 in their last 20 games and they’re currently in the midst of a four-game stretch that has included three 20-point losses. During the last 20 games, Orlando has the lowest offensive efficiency in the league, although that stretch also includes some missed time from leading scorer Evan Fournier. And coach Frank Vogel has been trying out enough different starting lineups, including Mario Hezonja of late, that it would be difficult to project exactly who they’ll have out there Monday night (Aaron Gordon is also questionable, as of this writing).
Joe: Since that victory over Miami on December 20, Orlando has posted a 7-19 record. As a whole, the team has struggled on both ends of the floor, ranking well-below league average in offensive rating (100.6) and defensive rating (107.3). While the Magic have been really poor offensively, their shortcomings on the defensive end are especially surprising given that they have both Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka. That said, Biyombo’s minutes have decreased over the past two months. We’ll see if they can get back on track as the season continues.
Otherwise, Evan Fournier continues to lead the team in scoring. While the Frenchman hasn’t shot the ball particularly well in his last three outings, he’s still averaging 19.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game during that stretch.
3: What matchups can each team try to take advantage of Monday night?
Couper: Orlando is an interesting team for Miami in that there are no immediate one-on-one matchups to exploit. Hassan Whiteside has a good deal of size advantage over Bismack Biyombo, but Orlando’s stable of big-men can try to move Whiteside around the floor defensively with Nikola Vucevic or simply pull him away from the rim with Serge Ibaka. Goran Dragic had an advantage when D.J. Augustin was starting, but Elfrid Payton is a very capable point-guard defender if he gets the majority of the minutes at that spot. And if Gordon plays, Orlando has a small-ball four to put up against the one-through-five stylings of James Johnson.
But Orlando’s roster makes sense in that way against a good many teams, which is why they were projected to have a very good defense before the season began. In practice, with them ranking in the bottom third of the league on that end, it hasn’t been the case. So even if the HEAT doesn’t have a ton of physical advantages, they can create them with their execution – especially execution on the level that they showed last week against Atlanta and Minnesota. The three-point shooting will likely cool off, and already has, from the three weeks of being over 40+ percent, but as long as the ball is getting into the paint and finding open shooters from there – on that note, Dion Waiters could return Monday night – then getting Orlando to make multiple rotations is a good place to start.
Joe: The center matchup should be pretty intriguing on Monday night. In that last matchup against Orlando, Hassan Whiteside had a monster game with 32 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks. Throughout the contest, the big fella found success against both Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. As such, it would make sense for the HEAT to try and get Whiteside in a rhythm early on like on December 20. Of course, the flip side of that is Whiteside will have to come out and contest Vucevic on the perimeter. The 26-year-old Montenegrin takes the majority of his shots from mid-range and converts on 45.8 percent of them. Not to mention, he’s also a terror on the offensive glass.
Other than that matchup though, there aren't any others that jump off the page as an advantage for either team. However, I am excited to see James Johnson and Ibaka go at it at certain points. Johnson has been on an absolute tear of late on both ends of the floor, while Ibaka has upped his scoring in the month of February. We’ll see how it all plays out.
INJURY UPDATE: Dion Waiters (ankle) went through Monday's shootaround and will warm up with the intent to play.
December 20-Magic at HEAT
October 26-HEAT at Magic
The HEAT have won eight straight at home and are 24-31. The Magic have dropped nine of their last 11 games and stand at 20-36. Goran Dragić leads Miami in points (20.3) and assists (6.4) per game. Evan Fournier leads Orlando in scoring at 16.8 points per contest.
HEAT Offense: 103.0 (26) HEAT Defense: 103.9 (6) Magic Offense: 100.6 (29) Magic Defense: 107.3 (22)