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By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
The Miami HEAT host the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT fell to the Bucks 116-108 in their last meeting on January 13. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What was your main takeaway from Miami’s victory over the Dallas Mavericks?
Couper Moorhead: Mainly that Miami found a way to win a close game down the stretch. Much was made of the interesting Hassan Whiteside-Dirk Nowitzki matchup at center, and while Nowitzki earned more open jumpers on the perimeter than Whiteside got efficient looks inside overall, with the rest of the Mavericks so unwilling to challenge Whiteside in the paint those open pick-and-pop looks became one of the only options for Dallas when mostly starters were in at the end. This was especially true when Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews were off the floor to start the fourth quarter, when you got the sense Dallas was trying to hang in long enough to buy their closers some rest, but when James Johnson effectively shut down Barnes in the post the Mavericks were again left with mostly perimeter shots. Miami’s offense enjoyed an explosive performance from Goran Dragic, but it was their defense throughout the quarter which kept Dallas at bay.
Joe Beguiristain: My main takeaway was that Miami continued to play solid defense and got out in transition whenever the opportunity presented itself. After limiting Houston to 40 percent shooting on Tuesday night, the HEAT forced the Mavericks to shoot just 38.1 percent after halftime. In particular, Rodney McGruder and Dion Waiters did a nice job of defending Wesley Matthews, while Tyler Johnson made things tough on J.J. Barea. When you couple that with yet another fantastic offensive outing from Goran Dragić (32 points on 11-of-15 shooting), you have yourself a recipe for success.
As a whole, Miami’s improved defense of late has allowed the team to get easier buckets on the other end. In fact, the HEAT have tallied a plus-6.5 net rating over the past two games, which is pretty good. Of course, it’s a very small sample size, but things are trending upward on what has become a nice little run this week.
2: What did we learn from last week’s game against Milwaukee?
Couper: These aren’t the defense-first Bucks that you might be used to. Milwaukee is sitting comfortably as a Top 10 offense right now, with news that one of their best scorers in Khris Middleton could return around the All-Star, and they showed why against a Miami team at the end of a six-game road trip with a relentless attack in the paint coupled with efficient outside shooting.
Some of this can be attributed to tired legs for Miami. Slow rotations to the rim led to a number of dunks and layups, and 13 offensive rebounds kept allowing Milwaukee to put pressure on those same rotations. Rested and at home, some of that should be cleaned up, but we also have to note that Greg Monroe was back in Milwaukee’s rotation for this one and the scoring combination of him and Michael Beasley proved to be too much once the HEAT were playing from behind.
The good news is that Miami did pretty well scoring themselves, especially in hitting 12 threes, but when they opened the game with a 30-point quarter the Bucks were scoring 42.
Joe: You may remember that game for a few monster jams in transition from Giannis Antetokounmpo. To put it simply, the “Greek Freak” lived up to his moniker and nearly notched a triple-double against Miami on January 13.
That said, the HEAT actually outscored the Bucks in the second half and fought back to cut the deficit to 99-91 with 7:53 to play. Naturally, both T. Johnson and James Johnson led the charge on Miami’s comeback bid, combining for 10 points, eight assists and two blocks in the fourth. Unfortunately, Antetokounmpo proved to be too much in the end and helped seal the deal for the Bucks. Since then, nothing has really changed for the newly minted All-Star, as he’s been on an absolute tear over his last five games.
While he’s been fantastic, we also learned from that last matchup that Milwaukee has a decent amount of depth at a number of positions. In particular, Greg Monroe and Michael Beasley have been the catalysts for the team off the bench. Ever since Beasley’s offensive explosion against the Spurs on January 10, he’s received more playing time. Monroe, meanwhile, has experienced nearly the same increase in minutes in the month of January.
3: How can Miami do a better job of slowing the Bucks’ offense this time?
Couper: While the HEAT only wound up with 8 turnovers, many of those came early and helped Milwaukee to get out in transition where Giannis Antetokounmpo was seemingly dunking from the free-throw line. As talented as the Bucks are, you can grind their offense down a little just by keeping bodies back in transition and getting your defense set. If that means being a little less aggressive on the offensive glass then that’s probably a fair trade.
Otherwise, it’s everything we mentioned before. Back at home, just defend with more energy and more awareness. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of getting back to what you normally do and being better.
Joe: For starters, the HEAT could do a better job of taking care of the ball. A big reason why the Bucks jumped out to such a quick lead was due to a few early turnovers by Miami. While the HEAT cleaned things up later in the contest, Milwaukee established a nice rhythm in the first quarter and rode that momentum until Miami came back in the fourth.
Otherwise, the HEAT have to turn Antetokounmpo into a jump shooter. Although he’s started to knock down the mid-range jumper recently, you’ll live with that over giving up an easy drive to the bucket. Like with any great player, it’ll take a collective effort from McGruder, J. Johnson and even Waiters to limit the 22-year-old as much as possible.
January 13-HEAT at Bucks
November 17-Bucks at HEAT
The HEAT have won two straight and are 13-30 on the year. The Bucks have lost four straight and are 20-22. Goran Dragić leads Miami in points (19.4) and assists (6.3) per game. Giannis Antetokounmpo leads Milwaukee in points (23.5), rebounds (8.8), assists (5.6), blocks (2.0) and steals (1.8) per contest.
HEAT Offense: 100.8 (29) HEAT Defense: 104.6 (11) Bucks Offense: 107.0 (9) Bucks Defense: 105.8 (18)
By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
The Miami HEAT host the Dallas Mavericks Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT defeated the Mavericks 93-90 in their last meeting on February 3. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What can the HEAT build on from their win over the Houston Rockets?
Couper Moorhead: Plenty, given that this was one of Miami’s most complete efforts of the season. Offensively they were able to get Hassan Whiteside the ball with deep position early on and once he was established, similar to a football team establishing the run game, and the Rockets spent a little extra energy trying to keep him away from the rim, Miami punished that Houston defense by attacking the paint again and again and again. Getting to the rim has been a primary focus all year for this team, but shooting 24-of-35 in that zone was one of their most efficient performances of the year.
Defense was where Miami really went above and beyond. The Houston Rockets were and are having a historically good offensive season – or would be, were it not for the Warriors and Raptors – and are taking more threes than any team in the history of the league by a wide margin. So to hold that team to a 94.2 offensive rating and just 9-of-39 shooting from deep was the story of the night. Some of that had to do with Houston’s two best shooters either being absent (Ryan Anderson out with an illness) or ice-cold (Eric Gordon shot 3-of-17), and three-point shooting is notoriously difficult to affect no matter how well you are contesting, but the HEAT did everything in their power to attack Houston’s strength. For that, they were rewarded with a win.
Joe Beguiristain: The HEAT did a lot of things right against the Rockets on Tuesday night, but let’s start off by discussing the offensive side of the ball. As usual, Goran Dragić was the catalyst with his team-high 21 points and eight assists, and thanks to his ability to get into the paint, five other players scored in double-figures for Miami. While Dragić didn’t connect with Hassan Whiteside for any alley-oops, he did find Wayne Ellington on the perimeter quite often, including an important setup that led to a three that put the HEAT up 105-94 with 1:41 to play. In fact, three of Dragić’s eight assists went to the swingman, which was the most he had to any player on the evening. In all, it was great to see the Dragon take advantage of Houston’s fast pace and get out in transition where he is at his best.
On the flip side of the ball, Miami did a great job against one of the best offenses in the league and held the Rockets to 40 percent shooting. In particular, Tyler Johnson held his own while defending James Harden and tallied an 87.9 rating against Houston. Additionally, the HEAT forced the Rockets to commit 18 turnovers and scored 20 points off those.
In short, it was easily one of Miami’s best wins of the season.
2: How has this season gone for the Dallas Mavericks so far?
Couper: As far as record goes, this season has probably been just as disappointing for Dallas, a team largely made up of veterans, as it has been for Miami. Certainly, neither team expected to be this low in the standings just a few weeks before All-Star Weekend. The reasons have been somewhat similar as well, with Miami losing so many games to injury and Dallas having been without Dirk Nowitzki for all but 16 games and Andrew Bogut, their best defender, for all but 22. But while Miami has struggled to score this season, the Mavericks have struggled to defend as they’re giving up over 108 points per 100 possessions (in the league’s bottom third) despite an offense that’s almost exactly the league median at the moment.
This will be similar to the previous matchup with Portland – a good small-ball offensive team against a good defensive team – with a variety of interesting matchups on both sides. But where the Trail Blazers have two ballhandlers uniquely capable of shooting off the dribble, Dallas relies a bit more on pick-and-roll spacing to create a similar rate of three-pointers.
Joe: While the Mavericks have struggled for a majority of the season due to injuries, things have gotten better of late with the team playing small-ball. In fact, Dallas has won three straight since Rick Carlisle started the three-guard lineup of Deron Williams, Seth Curry and Wes Matthews alongside Harrison Barnes and Dirk Nowitzki. In total, that five-man lineup has produced a 122.8 offensive rating in 63 minutes.
Although all three guards have played pretty well, Curry has really taken advantage of his opportunity. The 26-year-old is averaging 12.3 points on 54.2 percent shooting in his last three, including 53.8 percent from downtown. When you also factor in the continued strong play of Barnes and the return of Nowitzki, you have a team that should get better offensively as the season continues.
3: Are there any matchups Miami can try to take advantage of Thursday night?
Couper: This depends on whether or not Dallas makes a pre-game adjustment. In Andrew Bogut’s absence (he’s dealing with a hamstring injury) the Mavericks have been starting Dirk Nowitzki, now 38 years old, at center along with Harrison Barnes at the power forward spot. If Dallas stays with that alignment then the HEAT would have a significant size advantage in the middle of the floor with Hassan Whiteside, even with Dallas playing at such a slow pace that they’ll be more than willing to send a ton of bodies to the defensive glass. Yes, this would mean Whiteside would also have to track Nowitzki in the pick-and-pop and on the perimeter, but that’s a tradeoff Miami will more than likely be happy with given how much attention the Mavericks would have to devote to the HEAT’s center on the other end.
What’s probably more likely, however, is that Dallas plays seven-footer Salah Mejri over his usual minute allotment to try and match size-for-size. Dallas has actually been an above-average defensive team with Mejri (or Bogut) on the floor.
Joe: The clear-cut one for Miami is Whiteside against Nowitzki. On Tuesday, the big fella out of Marshall used his size advantage wisely against both Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell and tallied a double-double early on in the third quarter. That could be the case once more against a Mavericks team that is thin on bigs with Andrew Bogut out. Of course, Whiteside will also have to go out on the perimeter to defend one of the best shooters in NBA history in Nowitzki. Still, the 27-year-old has the right disposition needed to limit the sure-fire Hall of Famer.
“I’m a defensive-minded guy,” Whiteside said after practice on Wednesday. “I’m a guy that takes pride in defense regardless of wherever we’re at on the court.”
Other than Whiteside vs. Nowitzki, another matchup the HEAT could take advantage of is James Johnson against either Barnes or Dwight Powell. The versatile forward should be able to use his unique blend of brute force and fancy footwork to make plays at the rim against Dallas.
February 3-HEAT at Mavericks
January 1-Mavericks at HEAT
The HEAT are 12-30, while the Mavericks enter the contest at 14-27. Miami has won nine of its past ten games against Dallas. Tyler Johnson and James Johnson are the only two players in the NBA this season to record at least 400 points, 150 rebounds and 100 assists apiece off the bench. Harrison Barnes leads the Mavericks in scoring at 20.6 points per game.
HEAT Offense: 100.7 (29) HEAT Defense: 104.7 (11) Mavericks Offense: 102.2 (25) Mavericks Defense: 106.9 (22)