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By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Fernando Medina
The Miami HEAT open the season against the Orlando Magic Wednesday night at Amway Center. The HEAT defeated the Magic 118-96 in their last regular season meeting on April 10. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 6:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What’s your best guess at the starting lineup and rotation for Game 1?
Couper Moorhead: It seems fair to assume that Goran Dragić, Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside are locked into the starting lineup, which leaves us with just two spots that are up in the air. At the power forward spot, Derrick Williams is the educated guess simply because he played more minutes than anyone on the team during preseason and shared a large chunk of his time with the other three starters. Part of that may have been Josh McRoberts being injured, Luke Babbitt suffering a strained groin and James Johnson dealing with a foot issue during preseason, but for now Williams makes sense. His athleticism and ability to play in the open court pairs particularly well with Dragić.
As for shooting guard, with Wayne Ellington out and Josh Richardson still rehabbing his knee, the options would seem to be either Tyler Johnson or Dion Waiters. While each player has a strong argument, I’ll guess Waiters for now since the team seems to be lining up Johnson to be the backup point guard for at least the time being – where most of his reps have come – after waiving Beno Udrih and Briante Weber. Erik Spoelstra could also find a way to start Johnson and have him back up Dragić by staggering their minutes, so this is still a tossup.
Joe Beguiristain: Based on the preseason, my best guess for the starting lineup would be Goran Dragić, Dion Waiters, Justise Winslow, Derrick Williams and Hassan Whiteside. You could have penciled in Dragić, Winslow and Whiteside before Training Camp, but the two and four spot have been a main talking point for a few months now.
Of the eight preseason games, Williams started five of them at power forward. His versatility on the offensive end certainly fits well with Coach Spo’s “Pace and Space”system. Waiters, meanwhile, seems like the logical choice at shooting guard given that both Josh Richardson and Wayne Ellington are currently nursing injuries. The former Syracuse star started four games during the preseason and did a nice job of distributing the ball.
Speaking of moving the ball, the projected starting lineup of Dragić, Waiters, Winslow, Williams and Whiteside fared quite well on the offensive end throughout the preseason. In fact, that lineup tallied a 121.6 offensive rating in 37 possessions.
2: How do the HEAT match up against Orlando’s revamped frontcourt?
Couper: We probably don’t have to explain to many HEAT followers that Nikola Vučević has had his fair share of strong performances against Miami, but since the departure of Dwight Howard years ago Orlando has never had a fixture at either the power forward or backup center spots. Now, in Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo, Orlando has two of the best defensive big men in the league to mix and match with Vučević’s inside-out talents. Ibaka’s shooting in particular could unlock a number of looks under new coach Frank Vogel, as he’ll give Orlando a constant stretch option without having to sacrifice interior defense and rebounding.
Hassan Whiteside will be his own matchup issue for Orlando, but there’s no doubt it will be different defending multiple pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop options in additions to Vučević’s post-ups and offensive rebounding.
Joe: Last week against Orlando, Miami didn’t see the Magic’s full frontcourt since Bismack Biyomobo sat out due to rest. However, the team did get a heavy dose of Serge Ibaka and Nikola Vučević. With that power rotation, Orlando should be one of the better defensive teams in the league. Biyombo and Ibaka are extremely versatile and can switch on the pick-and-roll, while Vučević can crash the boards with the best of them. On the flip side of the ball, Biyombo is still developing, but Ibaka and Vučević can attack from both inside and outside.
With that being the case, it’ll take a collective effort from the HEAT’s frontcourt to combat them. While I believe Williams will start at the four, you can also expect a decent amount of action from James Johnson. The former Raptor looked pretty good defensively in his last outing against the Sixers and attacked the basket with force on the other end.
3: Is there any one thing, aside from a win, that could make this first outing a success to you?
Couper: If you’ve been reading this site for a while you’re probably well aware that we acknowledge, in the grander sense, the fickle nature of wins and losses. You can do everything you’re supposed to do, even do it better than you’re supposed to do, and still lose because some shots don’t fall or a few breaks don’t go your way.
With that in mind, the actual outcome of the opener doesn’t mean nearly as much as how the team performs. And for that one thing I want to see in this performance, it’s the same level of ball movement we saw in preseason carrying over to the real thing against real, prepared defenses. If that level of passing happens, that will likely mean the HEAT are getting good shots. And if they’re consistently getting good shots, the wins will come.
Joe: At this juncture, seeing the team continue to build chemistry would be a success in my mind. With a few players out and a bunch of new faces still feeling each other out, things are still largely a work in progress. How the team looks and performs now can be night and day from how things look a few months from now. The rotation might change, certain players might emerge, etc. That’s why it’s really important to not get too high or too low in the early going.
Just look at last season for a perfect example of how things can be different in a short period of time. Miami adjusted on the fly, played much faster in the second half of the season and received a huge boost from Richardson throughout its playoff push.
Time will tell if this year’s team goes through a paradigm shift like that, but it’s always good when you have a coach like Spo who’s open to new things.
April 10-Magic at HEAT
April 8-HEAT at Magic
The HEAT have won 15 of their last 17 games against the Magic. Hassan Whiteside led Miami in points (14.8), rebounds (10.3) and blocks (2.3) per contest during the preseason, while also shooting 65.5 percent from the field. Evan Fournier led Orlando in scoring during the preseason with 18.0 points per game.
HEAT Offense: 103.2 (7) HEAT Defense: 96.9 (12) Magic Offense: 95.8 (24) Magic Defense: 104.8 (29)
By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
The Miami HEAT host the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT defeated the 76ers 103-98 in their last meeting on March 6. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What did you take away from Miami’s loss in Charlotte?
Couper Moorhead: That the defense still has some tuning up to do. Yes, Miami was without Justise Winslow (not to mention Josh Richardson) on that end of the floor, but the HEAT have given up scoring bursts when opponents play their regular season rotations in preseason. It wasn’t as bad as it looked against Charlotte because Nic Batum hit a number of tough jumpers, but the Hornets were still getting open threes and run outs more often than you’ll want to see a few weeks down the road.
Again, it’s only preseason and it’s very tough to get a read off teams during preseason, but the offseason wisdom was that the defense would be ahead of the offense in the early going. So far it’s been the opposite, and that’s worth noting.
Joe Beguiristain: My biggest takeaway was that Miami has a bunch of young talent at its disposal. With a number of key contributors out and Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters only playing the first half, the HEAT still stayed in it and even took the lead in the third quarter. When you also consider that Steve Clifford treated the game as a dress rehearsal for the season opener, then the feat becomes even more impressive.
That said, Miami did get off to a slow start on both ends, which allowed Charlotte to gain an early advantage. While the HEAT figured things out towards the end of the first half, it’s important to start quickly and not allow the opposition to get into a rhythm.
Luckily, Wiliie Reed, Rodney McGruder and Okaro White all had their moments in Miami’s comeback bid. It ultimately wasn’t enough in the end, but it was good to see that kind of resiliency.
2: How have Brianté Weber and Rodney McGruder helped themselves in their quest to make the roster?
Couper: McGruder’s case has been that he’s shooting the ball well – 36 percent from three including 4-of-9 against the Hornets – while providing the same solid, steady play on both ends of the floor that anyone who saw him play for Sioux Falls or during Summer League would recognize. He realistically looks like someone who could play this season.
Weber’s had more of a learning curve on the offensive end, but that’s in part due to him playing the more complicated position at point guard. There’s definitely some rawness to his direction of the offense, but there’s also flashes of complete guard play. It’s as a ball stopper where Weber has really made his mark, as he appears to have truly elite hands for a defensive guard.
Joe: After practice on Wednesday, McGruder was asked what he could bring to the team. His answer? “Energy and effort.”
While simple, McGruder’s response was right on the money because those two things are exactly what he’s brought to the HEAT ever since Summer League. It was on full display once more against the Hornets, as the 25-year-old led Miami with 19 points on 4-of-9 shooting from deep. He also came away with three steals and made some impressive stops in transition. In short, he’s done everything he can to make the squad.
Brianté Weber, meanwhile, has also been a straight menace on the defensive end. He has the lateral quickness to hang with pretty much anybody, and also has very quick hands. His offensive game is still developing, but he’s shown the ability to create for his teammates and connect on floaters in the lane.
3: With just one preseason game left, have the HEAT accomplished what they needed to in advance of the real thing?
Couper: They’ve definitely figured out what they need to do offensively in order to have success, with one pick-and-roll flowing into another as players move off the ball and space the floor. The defense, as we’ve discussed, has looked like less of a finished product but the numbers are certainly in line with just about everyone else in the league. And the pace, as expected, has Miami playing at what would be among the fastest teams in the league.
Due to injuries, however, the rotation hasn’t quite been ironed out. Erik Spoelstra will have to make his decisions regardless, but without having had a full complement of players each night out – particularly potential starter Richardson – it’s tough to get a read on who, outside of Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside, has a clear, defined role as far as rotation minutes go. It’s to be expected given how much roster turnover there was this offseason, but there are questions to be answered nonetheless.
Joe: Yes and no. Since Josh Richardson and Josh McRoberts have been out for the entire preseason, we haven’t been able to see the full rotation. Not to mention, Luke Babbitt has also missed the past four games and is questionable for Friday night. Still, Derrick Williams has looked solid as the starting four for five consecutive games. His versatility on the offensive end certainly lends itself to Coach Spo’s system.
Speaking of offense, the HEAT have done a great job of moving the ball all preseason. Of course, “Pace and Space” has been key with Goran Dragić running the show, Whiteside in the post and a bunch of young, capable wings around them.
Imagine what the offense will look like once everyone is healthy.
March 6- 76ers at HEAT
March 4-HEAT at 76ers
The HEAT have won five straight regular season meetings with the 76ers. Miami enters the contest at 4-3, while Philadelphia stands at 1-5. Jerami Grant leads the 76ers in scoring with 12.5 points per game in the preseason.
HEAT Offense: 103.2 (7) HEAT Defense: 95.9 (10) 76ers Offense: 89.5 (30) 76ers Defense: 102.3 (22)