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By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
The Miami HEAT host the Denver Nuggets Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT fell to the Nuggets 95-94 in their last meeting on Nov. 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: Are there any positives that can carry over from Miami’s win in Los Angeles?
Couper Moorhead: To borrow a term from another NBA franchise, the HEAT did a much better job making this a grit-and-grind game rather than the Lakers’ typical full-court affair. Both teams still got out into transition plenty, largely due to Los Angeles’ 20 turnovers, but those turnovers were caused by the HEAT applying consistent pressure to all of the Lakers’ offensive actions. Miami crashed the offensive glass and, most importantly, had an unbelievably high 29 deflections. On a night when Miami was a little shorthanded and at the end of a West Coast trip, struggling to shoot from the perimeter along the way, they won because they defended long enough to give Goran Dragić a chance to win it for them at the end. As Erik Spoelstra has referred to it often this season, that’s the team’s blueprint for winning.
Joe Beguiristain: Definitely.
As been the case all season, the HEAT grinded out a tough victory and weren’t fazed down the stretch when the Lakers took a brief lead with 1:23 left. While Goran Dragić deserves a lion’s share of the credit for the win, other guys like Bam Adebayo, James Johnson and Josh Richardson also came up big.
In particular, Adebayo and Johnson applied pressure to Julius Randle for a majority of the contest and kept him in check after halftime. Adebayo perhaps limited Randle the most, but JJ was just as important with a team-high six deflections. Richardson, meanwhile, made a lot of hustle plays and ended up with five deflections, four offensive rebounds and a team-high four steals.
Gritty, hard-nosed performances like that go a long way when things aren’t going perfectly on the offensive end.
2: What has stuck with you about Miami’s loss in Denver way back at the beginning of the season?
Couper: That game was so long ago that Paul Millsap essentially missed three months of the season with an injury and he’ll still have played in both games against Miami. And not only was Dion Waiters starting but so was Okaro White, who recently signed a contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was also a game played at Miami’s pace and with Miami’s defense showing up to hold Denver to 100 points per 100 possessions. There were some interesting splits, however, as the Nuggets’ starters generally scored well and defended poorly in that game while their bench played some great defensive minutes, influencing a 13-point Miami third period. In the end some big plays, and free-throws, from Millsap sealed the deal, but it’s worth remembering what style of game it was.
It was also another excellent night from Dragić, who shot 8-of-15 with seven assists as he relentlessly attacked Nikola Jokić in pick-and-roll. To avoid that, Denver will likely put Millsap on Bam Adebayo and Jokić on James Johnson (assuming the starting lineup remains consistent) which means it will be important for Johnson to get off to an aggressive start attacking the rim as he has for the past ten days or so.
Joe: While both teams had slightly different looks in that last matchup, there are some things to note from that game. Above all else, James Johnson’s stout defense against Paul Millsap really stood out, as he held the 33-year-old versatile big to just 2-of-6 shooting when assigned to him. Of course, there’s no guarantee that will happen again, but Johnson has continued to show a lot of grit on the defensive end.
Another thing that jumped out from that previous meeting was Miami’s three-point shooting, as four guys hit multiple treys and the team shot 15-of-37 (40.5 percent) from downtown on the night. Although the Nuggets haven’t given up a ton of threes this season, they are susceptible from the left corner (allowing four attempts per game from that area). Not to mention, opposing teams are shooting 37.4 percent from deep against Denver, which is one of the higher percentages in the league.
We’ll see how it all plays out Monday night.
3: What aspect of Denver’s offense will be most important for Miami to slow down?
Couper: Getting Denver to slow down will be important but they’re actually only No. 15 in pace, which is unusually low for a Nuggets team. Theirs is a very balanced offense with shooters, post players and isolation players all around when they’re called upon. But it’s the passing, and therefore the cutting, that can hurt Miami the most if they aren’t showing the defensive activity level they showed against the Lakers. Both Jokić and Millsap are both willing and skilled passers and the Nuggets excel at taking advantage of defensive miscommunications and either cutting to the rim or to an open shooting spot. Because cutters typically only get the ball when they’re open, that means a shot off a cut is typically an open shot and therefore one of the most dangerous ones. It’s one thing if Denver has a hot shooting night or they’re scoring well one-on-one – those kind of games you can both survive and deal with – but if they’re supplementing everything with a ton of effective movement, you’ve got a long night ahead of you.
Joe: As Coup mentioned above, the Nuggets can do a little bit of everything on the offensive end thanks to their personnel. While Nikola Jokić is the key to it all with his ability to create for his teammates and score from anywhere on the floor, Denver is loaded with a bunch of guys who can fill it up. As a result, the Nuggets are ranked among the league’s elite in shot quality (expected effective field goal percentage of 52.5).
In particular, the HEAT have to be wary of Denver’s guards off the dribble. Among them, Jamal Murray and Will Barton pose the biggest threat, especially with Gary Harris out due to a right knee injury. The 21-year-old Murray has been on a nice little run recently, averaging 20.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game over his last five. It’ll be up to Dragić, Richardson and Tyler Johnson to help slow him down throughout the contest.
Nov. 3 – HEAT at Nuggets
The HEAT enter the contest at 37-33. The Nuggets have won three of five and are 38-32 on the year. Goran Dragić is averaging 24 points per game on 56.5 percent shooting over his past four outings. Nikola Jokić leads Denver in rebounds (10.5) and assists (6.0) per game. Dwyane Wade (mild left hamstring strain) and Hassan Whiteside (left hip pain) are out.
HEAT Offense: 104.2 (20) HEAT Defense: 104.4 (8) Nuggets Offense: 109.0 (6) Nuggets Defense: 108.6 (22)
By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann
At approximately 3:00 PM, I will be conducting trivia for two pairs of tickets to tomorrow night’s game against the Nuggets (one question per pair). The same person can’t win both pairs. Please keep in mind that you must be at least 18-years-old in order to qualify and must reside in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Collier, or Monroe County. Also, you are ineligible if you've already won tickets this season.
Please only play/answer if you can attend and qualify based on these rules.
By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein
The Miami HEAT face the Los Angeles Lakers Friday night at STAPLES Center. The HEAT fell to the Lakers 131-113 in their last meeting on March 1. Tip-off is set for 10:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 10:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What was your main takeaway from Miami’s road loss in Sacramento?
Couper Moorhead: It just wasn’t their finest defense effort, and it was clear from the postgame interviews that everyone knew it. Sacramento didn’t have any one player really go off despite 20-plus point nights from Zach Randolph, it was just a little bit from everyone as the Kings were able to pound the paint during what was a rough shooting night for them until the final minutes. The HEAT were able to hang around thanks to the individual scoring of Goran Dragić and some hot shooting, eventually making a late run after being down 16 in the final period when they just about couldn’t miss a three if they tried, but it was allowing 67 points between the second and third quarters, then another 12 in the five-minute overtime, that wound up being the story of the game. Yes, the HEAT were missing Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside and Dwyane Wade, but defense is something the team counts on no matter who is available.
Joe Beguiristain: Although the HEAT were missing a number of key contributors, it was still a tough loss to take. For most of the contest, Sacramento seemed to have a little more energy and played looser as a result. In particular, De'Aaron Fox really fed off the home crowd and hit some big buckets late to finish with 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting. While Miami’s defense could have been a lot better overall, Fox actually shot a perfect 7-of-7 on contested field goal attempts on Wednesday night. Sometimes crazy things like that happen in this league.
On the bright side, the HEAT showed a lot of grit and turned a 16-point deficit into a four-point lead with 1:23 left in the fourth. It ultimately wasn’t enough in the end, but it was good to see Goran Dragić and Wayne Ellington lay it all on the line.
2: What did we learn from the last matchup with the Lakers?
Couper: This Lakers team is really starting to put something together. Yes, they’re young, not yet a playoff team and will have the growing pains that always accompany youth, but extremely hot shooting aside (16-of-29 from three) they earned their dominant victory when they visited Miami. Until a late flurry of contested threes from Isaiah Thomas, the Lakers were earning one open three after another but also pushing the ball ahead in transition at every opportunity with rookie Lonzo Ball always seeming to find the open man and Julius Randle relentlessly pushing in the open court. The Lakers might be without Kyle Kuzma Friday night, which further shortens a short rotation after the Lakers played just eight for most of the game in Miami, but it’s clear that Luke Walton is molding an consistent identity out of his team, one that includes being a better defensive group than you might think.
Joe: We learned that the Lakers are very strong on the offensive end, as they shot 59.5 percent from the field and had six guys score in double-figures in that last matchup.
After Julius Randle set the tone early on, Brandon Ingram and Isaiah Thomas caught fire in the second half and hit some tough shots from the perimeter. Dwyane Wade did all he could to try and get Miami back in it, but Los Angeles responded time and time again.
Since that last meeting on the first of the month, the Lakers have continued to light up the scoreboard. While they push tempo often for easy buckets in transition, they’ve also taken a ton of above the break threes recently. Even though Los Angeles hasn’t converted those looks at a very efficient rate, Miami still needs to be wary of that tendency and remember what happened a few weeks ago.
3: Is there anything Miami can do to better defend Isaiah Thomas when he comes off the bench?
Couper: As the HEAT just dealt with in the form of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in a loss on Monday night in Portland, Isaiah Thomas is yet another quick guard capable of hitting the dribble three in pick-and-roll that’s increasingly becoming the toughest shot in the league to defend. Thomas had been having an uneven season returning from injury but he looked closer to his old self than ever in scoring 29 against Miami, including 6-of-11 from three. And there’s no perfect answer for defending him when that tough shot is falling. You can’t overplay in pick-and-roll because Thomas is quick enough to burn the big defender and get to the rim, and if you sit back he has plenty of space to take whatever shot he wants. There’s a ton of pressure on the guard to fight over the screen and get a hand in Thomas’ way, but you can’t depend on defenders to perfectly navigate every pick in front of them so it falls on the big man to manage the space between Thomas and the rim as best as possible until the defense recovers. All that said, Thomas is still only shooting 51.1 percent at the rim this season so it might be best to force him to drive rather than conceding the quick jumper.
Joe: As Coup mentioned above, there isn’t an easy answer to this question. Thomas is a guy who can get hot in a hurry and hit some extremely tough shots under duress. Thanks to his low center of gravity, Thomas is able to weave around screens very quickly for a pull-up jumper or a pretty clean look at the basket. As such, the HEAT’s guards have to anticipate the screen and get over it to disrupt Thomas in any way possible.
Another thing to take note of is where he will end up in the rotation Friday night. With Kyle Kuzma out Wednesday against the Warriors due to a sprained right ankle, Thomas got the start and fared pretty well alongside Lonzo Ball. If Kuzma is able to go against Miami, I.T. will likely come off the bench as usual. We'll see what happens.
March 1 – Lakers at HEAT
The HEAT enter the contest at 36-33. The Lakers have won two of three and are 31-37 on the year. Goran Dragić is averaging 22 points per game on 56.8 percent shooting over his past three outings. Lonzo Ball leads Los Angeles in assists (7.1) and steals (1.7) per game. Dwyane Wade (mild left hamstring strain) and Hassan Whiteside (left hip pain) are out. Josh Richardson (left foot soreness) is questionable.
HEAT Offense: 104.4 (20) HEAT Defense: 104.5 (10) Lakers Offense: 104.2 (21) Lakers Defense: 105.6 (12)