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Danny

Hawks at HEAT Official Game Thread and Preview

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(Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon)

The Miami HEAT host their division rival Atlanta Hawks tonight at AmericanAirlines Arena. The HEAT enter with a record of 13-5 after a win over the New Orleans Hornets Saturday night. The Hawks are 12-5 and have won three straight. Tip off is set for 7:30 PM; coverage on Sun Sports starts at 7 PM.

1. Who is Atlanta’s most important player these days?

Couper Moorhead: We have this same question up as a poll on the homepage and it’s pretty surprising that Josh Smith is winning with over 60 percent of the vote. Each component of this team plays a pretty significant role, and if you start taking them away you end up with a team that functions very differently than it does now. You need Jeff Teague for his speed and ability to run high pick-and-rolls, you need Josh Smith for his combination of size and ball skills and you need Lou Williams to create shots that nobody else is capable of creating. But ultimately this all comes down to Al Horford, whose lack of flash will always prevent him from getting the credit he deserves, but who is easily a Top 20 player in this league. Everything works through him on both sides of the court, and without him Atlanta just isn’t the same.

2. How has the switch from Joe Johnson to Lou Williams affected this team?

Couper: Williams isn’t exactly a more efficient guard than Johnson, as in the past his most efficient trait has been his ability to get to the free-throw line at will, but he’s helped changed the makeup of the offense, partially by coming off the bench and not taking shots away from the Teague-Horford-Smith combo or any of the team’s many shooters, but also because he’s not only a quicker player but he tends to make quicker decisions. Part of the reason Johnson’s isolation offense hurt the flow of the game so much is that he worked deep into possessions dribbling the ball and surveying the court. Williams isn’t perfect in this respect, but he’s much closer to a catch-and-go type of player, and it keeps things running smoothly.

3. Some have made a big deal about Atlanta replacing Orlando as Miami’s divisional rival, but does this matter?

Couper: It helps to have a couple of good teams in the conference to keep the team sharp, but as Paul Pierce has always said in Boston, they don’t raise any banners for winning the division.

4. How would a playoff series between these two teams play out?

Couper: It would ultimately come down to Miami being able to generate consistently efficient offense when the game slows down, but Atlanta moves the ball well enough and has the athletes and the shooters to keep up for quite a while. A series that went six-games deep wouldn’t surprise me, though it’s tough to really say at the moment because of how far off Miami’s defense is from being in playoff shape.

5. Is Udonis Haslem now the starter at power forward, or do you think Shane Battier will move back into that spot soon?

Couper: It’s unclear, but I imagine some of this decision comes down to Erik Spoelstra not wanting to wear Shane Battier and his knees down too much over the course of the season, as well as being able to sub Joel Anthony for Haslem in the second unit. It doesn’t signal an admission that small ball wasn’t working because the HEAT are going to play small plenty, it just means Spoelstra is experimenting and trying to find the best starting lineup to act as a vessel for getting the team to the playoffs good and healthy.

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Atlanta is a threat, and they are not afraid of the Heat. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if they beat the Heat tonight. Something is missing with this Miami Team this year. I know it is early and better peak later than earlier. I get that, however we haven't seen that killer instinct from the Heat, or even that Fear they used to instill in opposing teams last year. At least in one big game. So far the problems are being masked by the schedule, the late heroic wins against lesser teams celebrated as brilliant victories.

The Miami Heat many of us have learned to respect is the Pat Riley defense that wins by grinding the game, by outworking the opponents over 48 min. Gone are those days now. Somehow Spo thinks offense is more important, by acquiring 2 players who do not play defense, by taking Joel out of the lineup in his new experiments, some hope it is not too late, and that the lack of effort and fight on defense TREND has not turned in HABITS.

The Knicks are the best team in the East right now. And according to Magic J. and SAS (espn) http://espn.go.com/new-york/nba/story/_/id/8724043/new-york-knicks-serious-contenders-second-blowout-miami-heat, the Knicks are build to beat the Heat, and just might win the Eastern Conference. I know the defenders will say the Celtics dominated the Heat in the reg season and yet Miami beat them. This Knicks team is different, and I think mentally they just might want it more than the Heat do. It is almost as if the Heat fear the Knicks. We shall see.

If the Miami Heat are able to get back to their defense identity, maybe trade for a top defense player, then they might just return to the Eastern Conference Final.

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This is indeed a big game. So far we have not be impressed with the Miami Heat when they faced big teams. Will they get blown out again? Or will they show up and for once at least so far this year, show that they are still capable of playing defense.

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Flu like symptoms. Does that mean, finally my boy Jorts is about to hit the hardwood tonight?

He's our secret weapon for the playoffs.

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Flu like symptoms. Does that mean, finally my boy Jorts is about to hit the hardwood tonight?

I've heard Jorts name being throw around alot here, hope i can actually see him play

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    • By Joe B.
      Photo Credit: Cameron Browne
      The Miami HEAT face the Portland Trail Blazers Saturday night at Moda Center. The HEAT fell to the Trail Blazers 110-93 in their last meeting on April 2. Tip-off is set for 10:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 9:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
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      Couper: After a successful year last season with a relatively young group, Portland had some money to spend during the offseason. With flexibility in hand, they retained Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard and then signed both Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli. So it’s not a vastly different roster, but it could have been given how much was up in the air during the summer.
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      Joe: As Coup said above, Portland’s roster hasn’t changed all that much since the team re-signed a bunch of guys. However, they did bring in Festus Ezeli (who is currently rehabbing from knee surgery), Evan Turner and former HEAT player Shabazz Napier. Turner has provided a spark off the bench for the Trail Blazers, as he’s averaging 13.7 points, 3.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game on 52.4 percent shooting in his last six. The 28-year-old has been doing the majority of his damage in the paint and restricted area, so Miami will have to contain him off the dribble.
      Overall, Portland hasn’t started off as quickly as it probably wanted to. While they’ve won two of their last three, the team is currently 10-10. A lot of that has to do with their defense, which ranks last in the league in terms of efficiency. That said, the Trail Blazers have one of the best offenses in the league thanks to the dynamic backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. As usual, those guys will be a handful to contain. 
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      Couper: The Dragic-Hassan Whiteside combination could be a tough one for a Portland team that doesn’t have elite defenders at either position and with the Blazers not being a particularly strong defensive rebounding unit so far and Whiteside’s size advantage in the middle, there should be plenty of opportunities on the offensive glass.
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      Highlights:
      April 2-HEAT at Trail Blazers
      Game Notes:
      The HEAT have won two straight and stand at 7-12. The Trail Blazers have won two of three and are 10-10 thus far. Miami and Portland split the season-series a year ago, with each team winning on its home floor. Since returning from injury, Goran Dragić is averaging 23.3 points and 10.0 assists per game on 45.3 percent shooting.  
      Efficiencies (Rank):
      HEAT Offense: 100.5 (25) HEAT Defense: 102.1 (10) Trail Blazers Offense: 108.0 (7) Trail Blazers Defense: 110.4 (30)
    • By Joe B.
      Photo Credit: Melissa Majchrzak
      The Miami HEAT defeated the Utah Jazz 111-110 Thursday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Goran Dragić led the way for the HEAT with 27 points and six assists. Click here for the full recap on HEAT.com. 
    • By Joe B.
      Photo Credit: Melissa Majchrzak
      The Miami HEAT face the Utah Jazz Thursday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The HEAT fell to the Jazz 102-91 in their last meeting on November 12. Tip-off is set for 9:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 8:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
      1: How did Miami pull out the road win in Denver and how much of it could carry over to Thursday night?
      Couper Moorhead: This was one of those nights where all sorts of positive things came together to help Miami start its road trip off on the right foot. First, let’s start with Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside continuing their aggressive play from the second half against Boston earlier this week. Dragic was getting by his man and into the paint with relative ease for most of the night, which had the predictable results on Miami’s half-court offense, while Whiteside got hot with the hook – yes, you can get hot from ten feet – as he was dropping shots in after a variety of spin moves. But beyond Whiteside’s sheer scoring, it was also nice to see the team recognize whenever Denver had the smaller Kenneth Faried on him, and then execute to get Whiteside the ball near the rim.
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      Joe Beguiristain: The HEAT’s victory over the Nuggets was one of their best all-around efforts of the season. On the offensive end, Miami received contributions from pretty much everybody, as six guys scored in double-figures. In particular, Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragić got the team started off on the right foot in the first quarter. As a whole, Dragić relentlessly attacked the rim and did the bulk of his damage in the paint. Whiteside, meanwhile, showed good footwork in the post early and often against Denver’s slew of big men. Let’s also not forget Wayne Ellington, who totaled 22 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter.
      On the flip side of the ball, the HEAT forced the Nuggets to commit a bunch of turnovers and really zeroed-in during crunch time. In all, Miami scored 28 points off Denver’s 19 turnovers, and held the team to just 41.8 percent shooting. Ellington created a bunch of transition opportunities for the HEAT with four steals on the night.
      In terms of all this carrying over into Thursday night against the Jazz, that’ll be tough given that it is a back-to-back. As long as Miami continues to communicate on the defensive end and move the ball well on the flip side of the ball (the team tallied 26 assists against Denver), all should be fine. 

      2: What did we learn about the matchup with Utah the first time around?
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      Joe: In that last matchup, the HEAT were without Dragić and lost by 11 points. That said, both James Johnson and Derrick Williams did some damage at the four spot for Miami.
      Otherwise, we learned that the Jazz are still dangerous even without George Hill or Derrick Favors, who played just six minutes against the HEAT. Gordon Hayward is still the go-to guy for Utah, as he can slash to the hoop and draw contact with the best of them. In that last meeting with Miami on November 12, the 26-year-old nearly notched a double-double with 25 points and nine boards. The HEAT limited Hayward to just five free-throw attempts, but he showed a quick first step and got into the paint often. He’ll certainly be tough to contain on Thursday night.
      Otherwise, Miami has to be wary of Rudy Gobert inside. The Frenchman defended Whiteside pretty well in that last game and stood his ground. However, the former Marshall standout got going in the fourth quarter as the HEAT were mounting a comeback. We’ll see how it all pans out this time around.
       
      3: How will George Hill being back in the lineup affect this game?
      Couper: Hill sat out that first game but he’s one of the key new additions of this season, at least in the non-Kevin Durant division. Here’s pretty much all you need to know about Hill: when he and Gordon Hayward are on the floor, the Jazz have scored 122 points per 100 possessions and give up just 97.7. That’s an elite pair. While Hill is a strong shooter at the point guard position that spaces the floor for Hayward, he’s also a long, athletic defender who spearheads Utah’s defense and ensures that if the ball approaches Rudy Gobert in the backline, it does not to do so easily.
      Joe: Ever since Hill returned to the lineup on November 23, the Jazz haven’t lost. That’s likely because he owns the highest net rating on the team among regular rotation players (plus-14.3) and is one of the best two-way guards in the league. Not to mention, his veteran leadership is something Utah hasn’t had at the point guard spot in years.
      In short, Hill will likely make things difficult for Miami on both ends. He is deadly on the pick-and-roll and is a very stout on-ball defender. It'll be fun to see how Dragić handles the tough matchup.
      *The Jazz announced on Thursday morning that George Hill will not play due to a sprained left big toe.

      Highlights:
      November 12-Jazz at HEAT
      January 9-HEAT at Jazz
      Game Notes:
      The HEAT are 6-12, while the Jazz enter the contest at 11-8 after winning four straight. This matchup ties the earliest date that Miami and Utah will finish the season-series, with the last time coming in the ’00-’01 season. Hassan Whiteside leads the HEAT in points (17.7), rebounds (15.1) and blocks (2.6) per contest. Gordon Hayward leads the Jazz in scoring at 21.4 points per game.  
      Efficiencies (Rank):
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    • By Joe B.
      Photo Credit: Garrett Ellwood
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    • By Joe B.
      Photo Credit: Garrett Ellwood
      The Miami HEAT face the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night at Pepsi Center. The HEAT defeated the Nuggets 124-119 in their last meeting on March 14. Tip-off is set for 9:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 8:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
      1: There was a lot of talk about getting the defense back on track after the loss to Boston, so how can the team do it?
      Couper Moorhead: We can start by saying the team is not in a particularly advantageous position with regard to self-correction because they haven’t had a stable rotation for weeks. It’s always tough to get back to what you’ve been doing when the context around what you were doing is now longer stable.
      All that said, very few teams stay healthy for the duration of the season. At some point it is on the players who are playing to get back to doing what this team does best – whether its against a slow, grind-it-out Memphis offense of a spread-everything Boston team. The challenge at the moment will be finding that stout defense, complete with disciplined rotations and strong rebounding, with one of the toughest environmental back-to-backs possible in Denver and Utah, plus a 4-in-5 stretch coming up soon after that.
      Joe Beguiristain: As Coup alluded to above, things have been tough recently on the defensive end with so many guys in and out of the lineup. At the current moment, Miami is still a top-ten defense, but the team’s defensive rating has been steadily increasing. Of course, not having Justise Winslow, one of the best defenders on the squad, plays a part in that.  
      It may sound simple, but the HEAT just need to communicate better when there are screens and other actions designed to get them disoriented. If the team can rotate quickly and funnel the opposition’s attackers to Hassan Whiteside, things would look better. That’s obviously easier said than done, given that a lot of teams are going at Whiteside in the pick-and-roll to get him out of the paint. As long as the big fella remains disciplined and can get back quickly, all should be fine.
      2: What’s changed with Denver’s roster and how has their season started?
      Couper: Denver is actually fairly similar to what they were last year, though they added Jamal Murray and Juan Hernangomez in the draft and essentially re-added Jusuf Nurkic with his return from injury. So, this remains a team deep on talent that is still, with a 7-10 record, trying to put all the pieces together. The sometimes-explosive offense, ranked 17, has been there more often than not, but it’s the defense (21st) that has held things back so far.
      That depth has also given coach Mike Malone a bit of a challenge. While the team has dealt with some injuries, there are so many players on this team capable of contributing that there hasn’t always been a clear set rotation. This has manifested itself in a changing starting lineup, as Nurkic and Nikola Jokic opening the season starting alongside one another but since then Kenneth Faried has also started eight games. It’s a good problem for Denver the have, but there’s still much to sort out this season.
      Fortunately, through the changing lineups, Wilson Chandler is having a career year.
      Joe: Not much has changed to Denver’s roster outside of the team adding a few guys in the draft. The Nuggets had three first-round picks and used them on Jamal Murray (seventh overall), Juan Hernangómez (15th overall) and Malik Beasley (19th overall). Of the trio, Murray has received the most playing time with Gary Harris out with a right foot sprain and Will Barton in and out of the lineup due to a left ankle injury.
      Luckily enough for the Nuggets, Murray has answered the call and played quite well. While his shooting percentage has dipped a bit as of late, the 19-year-old is averaging 18.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game on 48.4 percent shooting in his last five.  
      All that has led to Denver winning three of its last five, including an impressive victory over the Bulls on November 22. While the Nuggets have struggled a bit on the defensive end, their offense will certainly give them a chance to win games.

      3: What sort of matchup problems could the Nuggets present?
      Couper: We’ve already discussed their mass of talent, which means the attacks could come from all angles especially if Danilo Gallinari and Will Barton return from injury. But it’s Denver’s frontline options that should present a challenge as Nurkic is a strong, rugged player who can make his presence known in the paint, Jokic possesses an abundance of skills and is capable of doing just about anything with the ball and Kenneth Faried is still a ball of energy who can take teams by surprise if they aren’t on point with loose balls.
      In other words, Denver has three very different looks to throw at Hassan Whiteside and it will be up to the team to help him adjust to each one.
      Joe: One guy I haven’t mentioned yet is Wilson Chandler, who has just been lights-out this season. The oft-injured forward was healthy for most of last season, as he appeared in 78 games. Thanks to that, he’s currently playing some of the best ball of his career. In fact, Chandler is averaging 18.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game on 47.1 percent shooting.
      The versatile 29-year-old has been attacking the rim with purpose and getting to the charity stripe more consistently. In addition to that, he’s shooting 37.8 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. Although he’s primarily come off the bench for the Nuggets, Chandler has started the past two games with Danilo Gallinari out. In short, Miami has to try and keep him off the glass and limit his effectiveness off the dribble. It’ll be fun to watch James Johnson or possibly even Rodney McGruder go toe-to-toe with Denver’s hottest player. 

      Highlights:
      March 14-Nuggets at HEAT
      January 15-HEAT at Nuggets
      Game Notes:
      The HEAT are 5-12, while the Nuggets stand at 7-10. Miami has won three straight against Denver. Both Justise Winslow (sore left wrist) and Dion Waiters (strained right groin) did not travel with the team on its three-game road trip.  
      Efficiencies (Rank):
      HEAT Offense: 98.8 (27) HEAT Defense: 101.4 (7) Nuggets Offense: 102.5 (18) Nuggets Defense: 105.6 (21)