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Danny

Thunder at HEAT Official Game Thread and Preview

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(Photo Credit: Nathaniel Butler)

The Miami HEAT host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Christmas Day. Both teams sit atop their respective conferences. The HEAT defeated the Thunder 4-1 in last season's NBA Finals. Tip off is set for 5:50 PM.

1. It’s the big revenge game for Oklahoma City. Whatever the result, will it have any meaning?

Couper Moorhead: This is a storyline game through and through, and when these games come around the results are usually overstated for about 48 hours until we all move on to the next big game and everyone forgets how much the last one meant. It’s nice that both teams will be healthy and rested coming into Christmas Day, but even a 30-point win isn’t going to tell us that one team is definitely better than the other. The things to keep an eye on are the little things, how different lineups interact with one another, how certain big men cover the perimeter and how easily either team is able to get into their transition game off misses.

Danny Martinez: It’s such a bummer to answer this question the same way every time, but no. The result will not have any significant meaning. It’s a fun measuring stick as the Thunder are playing what might be the best basketball in the NBA, but not much more. Rotations and playbooks will change significantly before any potential Finals matchup. Just enjoy the matchup for what it is. It should be really, really fun.

2. How has Kevin Martin changed their second unit in place of James Harden?

Couper: Martin has been everything Oklahoma City would want – as opposed to the version of himself a year ago – shooting well from the perimeter, making defenses react with off-the-ball movement and acquitting himself well enough on the defensive end so as not to be a major negative. But Martin was never going to be able to stabilize second-units with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook the way Harden could, picking and rolling his way to the rim. Durant and Westbrook spend a little more time apart now, each sharing time with Martin once the starting lineup is broken up, and with the ball in their hands more almost every lineup has had a positive efficiency differential.

Danny: Kevin Martin is not the playmaker that James Harden is. He can’t run devastating pick-and-rolls all night with Nick Collison or find Kevin Durant open for spot up threes. But Martin does provide enough shooting that the Thunder’s offense hasn’t missed a beat. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the postseason when teams scheme for Durant and Westbrook. If Martin can’t create like Harden could, someone else will have to step up.

3. Is Kevin Durant going to spend much time at power forward?

Couper: Scott Brooks doesn’t make Durant play a bit of four every game, but we do have more than 100 minutes of evidence so far, and whenever Durant plays next to Serge Ibaka or Nick Collison in the frontcourt the Thunder destroy their opponents for five-minute stretches. Kendrick Perkins hasn’t hurt the offense this year as much as last, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be on the court much in the fourth quarter if the game is close, with Brooks opting to slide Durant up a position and get Thabo Sefolosha and Kevin Martin on the court at the same time.

Danny: “Much” is open to interpretation. Against the HEAT, Brooks can play Durant at the four as much as he wants. Those lineups are devastating offensively and they allow the Thunder to get their best players on the floor. Russell Westbrook, Kevin Martin, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka comprise a potent quintet. Durant’s continually improving defense and post game make it possible with him at the four. I hope we get a few minutes to see what happens when both the HEAT and Thunder are “small.” I’m guessing there will be a lot of points scored.

4. Will each coach throw out the kitchen sink in order to win this game?

Couper: I highly doubt it. Erik Spoelstra doesn’t hold back as much as he used to, as far as play-calling goes, but there’s no reason to unveil a new defensive strategy or rotation tendencies four months before the playoffs start. These teams know one another well enough, and each should feel confident enough that what they’ve used up to this point in the season is enough to get a win.

Danny: Nope. There’s really no benefit to it. The teams know each other well, but if there is a small advantage to be had, it’s probably best to keep it filed away until June. We may see a wrinkle here or there, but I doubt we see any significant deviations from the status quo.

5. It’s never one thing, but if you could make a prediction off one statistic, what would it be?

Couper: Three-point shooting. If either team makes more than five threes than the other team, they’ll probably win. Granted, we don’t have an easy statistic to track open three-point shots – if we did, I would be using that – but as well as both teams are expected to execute, there is always a random element to perimeter shooting. And that randomness is often going to be what decides a relatively even matchup.

Danny: Rebounds! I’m kidding, of course. Couper’s hit the nail on the head. Three-point shooting is a big deal for the HEAT. I’m of the belief that pure attempts can be more significant than percentage made. When the HEAT are letting it fly, it’s usually based off of good offense. If we see the HEAT shoot lots of spot up threes, I’d bet things are going well.

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Not a must-win,but will be nice to get the win for the fans,and to keep pace with the Knicks,nonetheless.I'm interested in the BOSH/Ibaka match up.I think BOSH needs to win that match up if MIAMI is to have the advantage in this one.Also,if MIAMI can somehow keep Westbrook from penetrating easily,it'd be beneficial for our success.All in all,MIAMI plays MIAMI ball,MIAMI wins...TEAM HEAT since '88!

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Sorry it's a must win ! After we get blowouts twice against the Knicks, we dont have a significant win (the Nets LOL)

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The only significant wins to this HEAT team are the sixteen needed to host the Larry O'Brien. Win or lose, this will be a very fun game. But a statement game or a "needed" win, not really.

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Sorry it's a must win ! After we get blowouts twice against the Knicks, we dont have a significant win (the Nets LOL)

I feel ya,I'm just trying to keep it in perspective.In all honesty,as a die-hard HEAT fan,I'd like to win all 98 games :D...TEAM HEAT since '88!

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The only significant wins to this HEAT team are the sixteen needed to host the Larry O'Brien. Win or lose, this will be a very fun game. But a statement game or a "needed" win, not really.

That's my motto,Switchblade, 'Just get those 16 wins in the post season'....TEAM HEAT since '88!

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So if i understand you correctly, the HEAT can do a 0 win during the regular season ? Oh wait no playoffs then !

Oh wait where is the respect for the season ticket holder / the fans over the world (yes Lucky06 the Third world too) if the Heat dont care about the regular season ?

Why are you wating for that game then ?

Why not playing tonight with Pittman, Lewis, Harrelson if we dont care about that game

Even if i hate Kobe but give to the man credit, he is fighting to win EVERY damn game !

i still remember the 15 wins during the regular season, i dont want to see that again, it was so frustrating !

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So if i understand you correctly, the HEAT can do a 0 win during the regular season ? Oh wait no playoffs then !

Oh wait where is the respect for the season ticket holder / the fans over the world (yes Lucky06 the Third world too) if the Heat dont care about the regular season ?

Why are you wating for that game then ?

i still remember the 15 wins during the regular season, i dont want to see that again, it was so frustrating !

I'm going to give you the benefit and assume that you're wise enough to understand my responses,my fellow HEAT fan...TEAM HEAT since '88!

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Even if i hate Kobe but give to the man credit, he is fighting to win EVERY damn game ! To shut you down

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So if i understand you correctly, the HEAT can do a 0 win during the regular season ? Oh wait no playoffs then !

Oh wait where is the respect for the season ticket holder / the fans over the world (yes Lucky06 the Third world too) if the Heat dont care about the regular season ?

Why are you wating for that game then ?

Why not playing tonight with Pittman, Lewis, Harrelson if we dont care about that game

Even if i hate Kobe but give to the man credit, he is fighting to win EVERY damn game !

i still remember the 15 wins during the regular season, i dont want to see that again, it was so frustrating !

Please tell me you are not serious. In your attempt to create a stir, your response to my post is a response to what you think I meant rather than what I actually said. I'm sure you don't really think that I am unaware that we need to win games to make the post-season. I remember that 15-win season myself, I was here for every game and understand that we missed the playoffs by far that season.

I also was here when we beat the Boston Celtics int he playoffs, despite going, I believe, 0-4 against them during the regular season. Were all of those rivalrous games probably hyped up at the time as "needed" or "statement" games, such as this one is today? I'd bet my Christmas bonus on it.

My point is - win or lose, the HEAT are more concerned about their progress as a team for the long haul rather than making a statement in the regular season against a team they already made a pretty big statement against by ousting them 4-1 in the NBA Finals. Especially since the Thunder were the "better team" heading into that series.

And where Kobe comes into this discussion is beyond me? I will simply respond to Kobe's "greatness" for his "need" to win every game with the fact that, right now, he actually does need to win every game, with the mighty Lakers being out of the playoff picture in the West if they started tomorrow.

Anything else you'd like me to clear up for you? As aforementioned: this is not a "statement" game. Cut the dramatics and enjoy what will be a very fun game to watch, win or lose. LET'S GO HEAT!

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Lol BOSTON ! Last year we made a lot of statements : The Lakers, The Thunder, the Spurs (With Duncan, parker and co) , the Bulls (with Rose) , The Knicks and this year ??? Oh wait we beat the Nets twice !

Oh yeah we are ready for the playoffs !

Thank you for the fans all over the world and the ticket season holder to follow a boring regular season ! I never said to win all the games but when man we got 2 blowouts against the knicks, it's not because we beat some lottery teams (ok maybe except Atlanta) it means we are ready for the playoffs.

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We're gonna have to play a great game to win. OKC is playing some of the best ball in the league next to the Clippers. Should be exciting, it's always fun to watch the 2 best basketball players in the world go at it.

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We're gonna have to play a great game to win. OKC is playing some of the best ball in the league next to the Clippers. Should be exciting, it's always fun to watch the 2 best basketball players in the world go at it.

No people are saying the most important is the 16 games to get the trophy LOL i mean come on !

If you are a player, this is exactly the kind of game, you would love to play, i mean national tv in a christmas day, if you want to write more in your legacy, then you have to win that game ! Specially when you know that you can meet thoses guys in the finals !

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No people are saying the most important is the 16 games to get the trophy LOL i mean come on !

If you are a player, this is exactly the kind of game, you would love to play, i mean national tv in a christmas day, if you want to write more in your legacy, then you have to win that game ! Specially when you know that you can meet thoses guys in the finals !

Its just 1 game of 82 but it would be great to get this win. We haven't had a really big win all year.

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That's why i said we must win that game, i know it's one game but this is on christmas day, i still remember the win last year against the Mavericks, it was great ! This year we havent seen the real miami heat !

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No people are saying the most important is the 16 games to get the trophy LOL i mean come on !

If you are a player, this is exactly the kind of game, you would love to play, i mean national tv in a christmas day, if you want to write more in your legacy, then you have to win that game ! Specially when you know that you can meet thoses guys in the finals !

You don't get it. Do you really believe a Christmas Day game "writes" more on a players legacy? Seriously, this game doesn't write anymore or less on ones legacy.

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Hmm, great start, but now that run from the thunders. We missed a few open shots, that isn't a problem. But I dont want to see hero ball from James so early in the game.

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Did i say it will be written in their legacy ? Have you seen the real Heat this season so far ? I will help you NO ! Oh yes the famous excuse the most important is the playoffs LOL

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Jesus Serge is getting ref treatment like prime Olajuwon.

Lol poor Martin, it's not fair he should have to guard LeBron.

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  • Similar Content

    • 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. 

      Highlights:
      February 3-HEAT at Mavericks
      January 1-Mavericks at HEAT
      Game Notes:
      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.  
      Efficiencies (Rank):
      HEAT Offense: 100.7 (29) HEAT Defense: 104.7 (11) Mavericks Offense: 102.2 (25) Mavericks Defense: 106.9 (22)
    • By Joe B.
      Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
      The Miami HEAT defeated the Houston Rockets 109-103 Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Goran Dragić led the way for the HEAT with 21 points. Click here for the full recap on HEAT.com. 
    • By Joe B.
      Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
      The Miami HEAT host the Houston Rockets Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT fell to the Rockets 115-102 in their last meeting on February 2. 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: With the HEAT at their midpoint of the season, what can we expect of them going forward?
      Couper Moorhead: While you never know what can happen in the run up to the trade deadline – remember, the HEAT acquiring Goran Dragic two years ago was a bit of a surprise out of left field at the time – and we may get to see some of the talent from Sioux Falls get an opportunity given some of the team’s injuries, you’re most likely to see the same competitive team that you’ve seen all season. The results haven’t been there thus far, but nobody that has followed this team all season can say the team hasn’t been in the vast majority of their contests thus far. Sometimes it’s because they’re shooting really well, sometimes it’s because Erik Spoelstra surprises with some funky new lineup, sometimes it’s because Miami’s defense is playing at a Top-10 level, but underneath all of that is a collective competitive spirit which has rarely waxed or waned all season. 
      Joe Beguiristain: Although it’s hard to predict when guys like Josh Richardson or Josh McRoberts will come back from injury, there is one thing you can pretty much bank on from the HEAT moving forward: they will give it their all.
      In particular, Tyler Johnson and James Johnson have been the catalysts on that front, as the duo has provided a lift off the bench with its playmaking skills, pace of play and most importantly, defense. They also have played quite well down the stretch of late. In fact, T. Johnson is shooting 45.5 percent in clutch situations this season (up or down five points in the last five minutes of a game). On the flip side of the ball, he leads the team with four blocks when using those same parameters. J. Johnson, meanwhile, trails just Goran Dragić and Justise Winslow with five assists in clutch situations.
      While Dragić and Hassan Whiteside have been the focal point of Miami’s offense all year, you can make the argument that Johnson & Johnson are just as important to the team’s success.
      2: What has made the Houston Rockets so good this year?
      Couper: It’s all about the offense. Houston is currently third in Offensive Rating, scoring 112.6 points per 100 possessions – trailing only Toronto and Golden State teams in the midst of possibly two of the best offensive seasons of all time. As Erik Spoelstra put it at practice on Monday, it’s a perfect marriage of a franchise with specific beliefs (valuing three and layups over mid-range shots), a coach in Mike D’Antoni who was part of revolutionizing league scoring with the Steve Nash Phoenix Suns, an incredible individual talent in James Harden who has taken on even more of a playmaking burden this year at point guard and a dynamic mix of athletic talent and incredible shooters (Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson) which lets the team play with great pace.
      Great offense alone doesn’t carry you to a 32-11 record, however. The Rockets lost Dwight Howard in free agency but the replacement frontcourt of Clint Capela, Nene and Montezl Harrell has helped keep the Rockets around league average defensively. Put it all together and it’s an entire franchise, not just a player or a style of play, firing on all cylinders. 
      Joe: Threes, threes and more threes. Houston leads the league by a wide margin in 3-pointers attempted per game and connects on 37.5 percent of them. Of course, when you have a team coached by offensive guru Mike D’Antoni, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. What has been a bit unexpected is how the Rockets haven’t missed a beat despite losing some key players in the offseason like Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones and Jason Terry.
      While James Harden has had an MVP-worthy season thus far with 12 triple-doubles, newcomers Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson have really come on strong for Houston. How strong? Well, both Gordon and Anderson lead the team in three-point shooting at 41.1 percent and 40.3 percent respectively (minimum of one three taken per game).
      In addition to being one of the best offensive teams in the league, the Rockets are also one of the faster teams, averaging 101.17 possessions per game. As Coach Spo said after practice on Sunday, “It feels like sometimes they have six players on the floor. It’s the Phoenix Suns of 2003-2004 on steroids.”
      3: How can Miami combat Houston’s dynamic offense?
      Couper: Put pressure on them with Hassan Whiteside. The more bodies that have to deal with Whiteside on the glass, the fewer bodies that can leak out in transition and get set up for the quick threes which make up so many of Houston’s explosive runs. Unlike the Warriors, however, who lack athleticism and length at their center position, the Rockets have their own young athlete in Capela, who is likely to play after missing about a month. Still, Whiteside should have an advantage as far as bulk goes, so him slowing Houston down with relentless energy could pay dividends for Miami over the course of a full game. 
      Then there’s all the details. Miami will have to always be ready to help on James Harden without fouling, since he’s so dynamic at getting into the paint, but when the Rockets are able to run they have to be highly aware of where all the shooters are on the floor. Similar to the Warriors game last week, the Rockets have the personnel to punish every mistake in the open floor.
      Lastly, the HEAT can’t turn the ball over. You don’t want to be too safe with your offense because then you’re hurting yourself too much on that end, but live-ball turnovers will dig you a hole in a hurry against elite, up-tempo offenses.
      Joe: It’s easier said than done, but Miami has to run Houston off the three-point line. If the Rockets get into a nice rhythm from deep, you’re essentially done for. Case in point: Houston set a regular season record with 24 made 3-pointers against the Pelicans on December 16.
      Stopping Harden from getting into the paint will also be a tall task, as the 27-year-old is among the league's best with 11.2 drives per game. After practice on Monday, Dion Waiters talked about how difficult it is to play aggressive defensively on Harden due to his ability to draw fouls. As such, the HEAT will have to be very smart when guarding the dynamic playmaker.
      On the flip side of the ball, Miami should have an advantage against a Rockets defense that has tallied a 110.7 rating over its last seven games. Hopefully Dragić and Whiteside can put pressure on Houston in the pick-and-roll game, which in turn should lead to open guys on the perimeter.
      At the end of the day, the HEAT will be put to the test on nearly all fronts. Luckily, the team has had some solid days of work since its last game on Friday against the Bucks, so we’ll see how it all pans out on Tuesday night.

      Highlights:
      February 2-HEAT at Rockets
      November 1-Rockets at HEAT
      Game Notes:
      The HEAT are 11-30, while the Rockets stand at 32-11. Miami has won six of seven against Houston at AmericanAirlines Arena. Goran Dragić leads the HEAT in points (19.0) and assists (6.4) per game. James Harden leads the Rockets in points (28.4), assists (11.7) and rebounds (8.2) per contest.  
      Efficiencies (Rank):
      HEAT Offense: 100.6 (29) HEAT Defense: 105.0 (13) Rockets Offense: 112.6 (3) Rockets Defense: 105.7 (19)
    • By Joe B.
      Photo Credit: Gary Dineen
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    • By Joe B.
      Photo Credit: Gary Dineen
      The Miami HEAT face the Milwaukee Bucks Friday night at BMO Harris Bradley Center. The HEAT defeated the Bucks 96-73 in their last meeting on November 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 did you like about how Miami played against the Golden State Warriors?
      Couper Moorhead: Nobody who has been following the HEAT this season should have been surprised that the team, relatively healthy, came out ready to play against one of the league’s premier clubs. Steve Kerr made a point afterwards to credit Erik Spoelstra for keeping his team ready to play, and for the team playing as hard as it does, and that tracks with everyone we’ve come to expect from this group, regardless of result.
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      Joe Beguiristain: I liked that Miami went right to the matchup where it had an advantage. That matchup, of course, was Hassan Whiteside against Golden State’s slew of bigs. Whiteside was active and engaged from the opening tip, as he finished with 28 points and 20 rebounds for his third 20-20 game of the season. A big reason why he had success was due to the aggressiveness of the HEAT’s perimeter players. In particular, both Dion Waiters and James Johnson had little trouble getting into the paint and either finished themselves or lobbed it to the big fella. Early on, Goran Dragić did the same and had a very quick start to the contest.
      Otherwise, Miami continued to play hard and remained focused on the task at hand. At this point though, that should be expected from this group. No matter who’s in, who’s out or who’s on the opposing side, the HEAT never make excuses and just compete. Guys like Tyler Johnson (who scored 18 points and grabbed seven boards against the Warriors) are the epitome of what the franchise stands for. 
      2: Can we take anything away from Miami’s victory over Milwaukee back in mid-November?
      Couper: The Bucks are a fascinating team this year. When they lost Khris Middleton to a torn hamstring it was reasonably to expect them to struggle to stay in the playoff race, but with Giannis Antetokounmpo making a major leap and Jabari Parker making good on his talent, here they are with a Top-10 offense sitting right in the heart of the mix for the postseason.
      The last game against them, however, felt like it could have been last season considering all the lineup permutations the HEAT have gone through since then. But everyone who was available for Miami in that game could be available again given that neither Josh McRoberts or Justise Winslow played against the Bucks. On Milwaukee’s side, however, Greg Monroe was out of the rotation entirely last time around and now he’s firmly back in it.
      Milwaukee also scored just 80.2 points per 100 possessions that time around as they were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, and considering how good their offense has been otherwise Miami should expect a bit more of a defensive challenge.
      Not to mention the Bucks are coming off a nice road win at San Antonio, with Antetokounmpo playing just nine minutes (he’s good to go, reportedly, for Friday) and Michael Beasley scoring 28 points off the bench, and surprise rookie Malcolm Brogdon has played his way into a starting role.
      Joe: While things were tight through the first two quarters in that last matchup, Miami clamped down defensively and held Milwaukee to just 23.3 percent shooting in the second half. Naturally, Whiteside led the charge on that front and swatted six shots after halftime. In turn, his rim protection led to easy buckets in transition for his teammates. With Whiteside coming off one of his better games of the season against Golden State, perhaps his strong play can continue on Friday night.
      Otherwise, there isn’t too much to takeaway from that last meeting with the Bucks since rotations for both teams have changed. Josh Richardson and Derrick Williams started against Milwaukee, but now Luke Babbitt has been getting most of the starts at power forward and Richardson is out Friday with a left foot sprain.
      On the Bucks’ end, Matthew Dellavedova started at point guard and Greg Monroe got a DNP-CD. Dellavedova now comes off the bench, while Monroe has received much more playing time since December. In Dellavedova’s place, Malcolm Brogdon has fared very well in the starting lineup, averaging 14.1 points, 6.4 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game in his last seven outings.
      3: Where can Miami find an advantage Friday night?
      Couper: The Bucks have been one of the best pick-and-roll defenses in the league this year, allowing just 0.92 points per used screen, so attacking them head on with the usual diet of Goran Dragic-Whiteside pick-and-rolls could lead to some difficult shots, but the Bucks also allow three-pointers (attempts) at a fairly high rate so if those pick-and-rolls can remain enough of a threat to draw an extra defender, the spot-up opportunities should be there.
      This is another game where Whiteside has a size advantage. Where the Warriors, playing Zaza Pachulia, David West and Draymond Green, often lacked the height and length to combat high passes to Whiteside, the Bucks with John Henson, Miles Plumlee and Monroe have athleticism in spades but not quite the bulk to really move Whiteside off position. There should be opportunities for him on the offensive glass and flashing in the middle of the floor for deep position.
      Joe: While the Bucks have a lot of long and athletic defenders, they have struggled on the defensive end in their last 12 games. In fact, the team has tallied a 109.3 defensive rating during that timespan. As such, the HEAT should find some success offensively. Of course, it all starts with Miami’s perimeter players and their ability to attack the basket and collapse the defense. If Dragić, Waiters and J. Johnson can put pressure on Milwaukee, the HEAT should be just fine.
      On the flip side of the ball, things might be a little tougher for Miami. The Bucks have been quite good on the offensive end over their last 12, as they own an impressive 112.5 offensive rating. As you might expect, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker have been their usual steady selves, but Monroe and Brogdon have really emerged as well. In that previous meeting, it took a collective effort from J. Johnson and even the smaller Dion Waiters at times to limit Antetokounmpo and Parker to a combined 10-of-35 shooting. We’ll see how it all pans out this time around. 

      Highlights:
      November 17-Bucks at HEAT
      March 9-HEAT at Bucks
      Game Notes:
      The HEAT are 11-29, while the Bucks stand at 19-18. Hassan Whiteside leads Miami in rebounds (14.4) and blocks (2.2) per contest. Giannis Antetokounmpo leads Milwaukee in points (23.3), rebounds (8.8), assists (5.6), blocks (2.1) and steals (1.9) per game. Willie Reed (bruised sternum) and Josh Richardson (left foot sprain) are listed as out.  
      Efficiencies (Rank):
      HEAT Offense: 100.3 (29) HEAT Defense: 104.5 (10) Bucks Offense: 107.4 (8) Bucks Defense: 104.6 (11)