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By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Kent Smith
The Miami HEAT face the Charlotte Hornets Thursday night at Time Warner Cable Arena. The HEAT defeated the Hornets 106-73 in their last meeting on May 1. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: With some of the regulars sitting out Tuesday’s game against Orlando, which performances caught your attention?
Couper Moorhead: This might be odd since he’s one of the clear focal points of the team, but with Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside both out it was nice to see Goran Dragić look for his own offense a little more after having spent some of preseason making sure the offense is flowing as intended. While Dragić may not be the sort of player to seek out his own one-on-one offense, that’s a quality Miami will need from time to time when defenses jam up the paint and switch on pick-and-rolls. We know Dragić can push the pace in the open floor and turn the corner on the pick-and-roll, but a small dose of him breaking down his man and finishing with a pull-up jumper or a runner could go a long way toward keeping Miami’s offense balanced.
Joe Beguiristain: Two guys in particular stood out to me on Tuesday night. Let’s start with Goran Dragić, who continued to look very sharp this preseason. The 30-year-old raced out in transition and simply looked better conditioned than any player on the Magic. Of course, playing for the Slovenia National team in FIBA EuroBasket Qualifiers a month ago really helped matters. That has gone a long way for Dragić thus far, as he led Miami with 17 points against Orlando.
The other player that caught my attention was Willie Reed. With Hassan Whiteside out due to personal reasons, Reed took advantage of his second-consecutive preseason start. The 6-foot-10 center out of St. Louis University aggressively dove to the rim and was always ready for the catch in the post. As a result, he notched a double-double with 16 points and 11 boards.
2: With the HEAT currently sitting in the Top 5 in offensive rating in the league, as of Wednesday, what part of their scoring feels most sustainable?
Couper: It remains to be seen whether or not the team can sustain their 40+ percent three-point shooting – a number of players are shooting above career averages but they’re also young players clearly at a stage of possible improvement – but the strongest sign in support of those percentages staying high is that Miami is generating a ton of corner-three attempts. Those shots are almost entirely generated by system – they’re a Spoelstra staple – and ball movement, so high volume from the corners generally means you’re doing something well. That said, when and when not to help off the corners is something teams generally tighten up by the regular season.
Joe: With the way the HEAT are moving the ball, the team should be able to continually get good looks from the perimeter. In particular, Dragić and Dion Waiters have done a great job of collapsing the defense and kicking the ball out to open shooters. In turn, that has allowed guys like Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington to get into a nice rhythm from distance.
Case in point: entering Wednesday, Miami was ranked in the top-seven in assist ratio (17.9) and in the top-three in effective field goal percentage (55.1 percent). Of course it’s just the preseason, but good habits are starting to form.
3: How will the Miami-Charlotte matchup be different this season?
Couper: In order to retain players like Nicolas Batum and Cody Zeller the Hornets lost Courtney Lee, Jeremy Lin and Al Jefferson with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (back from injury) and Roy Hibbert stepping in as replacements. Charlotte may not be quite as dynamic offensively but they have a chance to improve significantly on defense, and perhaps come out even better in the end.
For the HEAT, that means dealing with more length when they’re trying to score, particularly at the rim against Hibbert with a Miami offense currently dependent on paint attacks, and defending the same pick-and-roll weapons on the other end. It probably won’t look much like last season’s postseason series, but this matchup could be just as fun in its own way.
Joe: Both teams look very different than when they last met in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round. Al Jefferson is on the Pacers, Jeremy Lin is on the Nets and Courtney Lee now plays for the Knicks. While Jefferson missed a lot of time during the regular season last year, both he and Lee were vital in the playoffs. Lin, meanwhile, provided a spark off the bench.
In their stead, the Hornets brought in Roy Hibbert, Marco Belinelli and Ramon Sessions. Luckily, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is healthy once again and projects to be the team’s starting three. With Kidd-Gilchrist, Hibbert and Nicolas Batum in the starting lineup, the Hornets should be a very formidable team defensively. The HEAT will certainly have to be wary of Charlotte’s size and athleticism on Thursday night.
May 1-Hornets at HEAT
April 29-HEAT at Hornets
The HEAT are 4-2 in the preseason, while the Hornets stand at 2-3. Goran Dragić is averaging 12.8 points, 6.4 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game on 51.9 percent shooting. Frank Kaminsky leads Charlotte in points (12.8) and rebounds (6.4) per contest in the preseason.
HEAT Offense: 105.7 (4) HEAT Defense: 95.7 (8) Hornets Offense: 92.3 (27) Hornets Defense: 95.9 (9)
By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
The Miami HEAT host the Orlando Magic Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. The HEAT defeated the Magic 118-96 in their last meeting on April 10. 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: Who has surprised you most this preseason?
Couper Moorhead: I don’t know that anyone qualifies here as an ‘I didn’t know he could ever do that’ sort of surprise, but it’s been nice to see Justise Winslow’s jumper consistently fall – with good mechanics – even though we already knew he was working on his shot all offseason. For that matter, it’s been a nice surprise that the entire team is shooting well at 39.9 percent from three right now. While that likely won’t sustain due to the simple law of averages and previous career numbers for various players on the roster, even factoring in internal improvement from players like Winslow, just seeing the team shoot like this over a small sample size is encouraging. It’s much easier to run off multi-game winning streaks when you can shoot this well over a couple of weeks.
Joe Beguiristain: I’ll have to go with Dion Waiters. I knew coming in that Waiters was a dynamic scorer, but I didn’t quite expect him to create for his teammates as well as he’s had thus far. In fact, he’s second on the team with 4.4 assists per game (Goran Dragić leads all players with 6.8 per).
Waiters’ ability to get into the lane and draw the defense has been invaluable since the opposition has to react when the ball is in his hands. In turn, that’s freed up shooters on the perimeter and Hassan Whiteside in the pick-and-roll. All you have to do is take a look at the three-guard lineup of Dragić, Waiters and Tyler Johnson against the Spurs for evidence of what he can do.
2: What challenges does this remade Orlando roster present for Miami?
Couper: Adding Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo to a team that was already around league average defensively should give Orlando the opportunity to enjoy a Top-10 defense. It won’t be just the rim protection that could give Miami and every other team an issue against this deep front-court, it’s that both Ibaka and Biyombo are athletic enough to switch pick-and-rolls and defend a bit on the perimeter.
So far, from Miami, we’ve seen a free-flowing pick-and-roll offense that has consistently generated open threes and driving lanes. But most teams haven’t gone too deep into their defensive scouting yet and the HEAT haven’t seen too much outside of base, training camp systems. If Orlando attempts a ton of perimeter switching, the HEAT could get a real test of their capabilities in the half-court when things slow down.
Joe: The biggest challenge for the HEAT will be neutralizing Orlando’s frontcourt. While Nikola Vucević will likely be the Magic’s starting center once the regular season rolls around, free-agent acquisition Bismack Biyombo had a great outing as the starter on Sunday against the Hawks. The former Raptor struggled a bit from the field, but he grabbed 19 rebounds and blocked five shots in 36 minutes of action. Serge Ibaka, meanwhile, led Orlando with 25 points to go along with six boards and two blocks. In short, the duo was a force to be reckoned with.
Overall, Ibaka is more polished offensively, but both guys can impact the game defensively due to their versatility and athleticism. Luckily, Miami has moved the ball very well in its last few outings.
In all this preseason, the HEAT are averaging a shade under 24 assists per game to go along with a 104.6 offensive efficiency rating.
3: Now that we’re into the late stages of preseason, what would you like to see from Miami as they tune up for the regular season?
Couper: You would like to see the rotation eventually iron itself out, though because that will happen with time regardless of the next three preseason games it’s hardly an area of concern. While it’s a simple ask, what we really want to see if Miami compete against a fully developed rotation – without players like LaMarcus Aldridge sitting out – with a more specialized defensive focus so that we can actually get what feels like a regular season preview.
Joe: As the preseason comes to a close this week, I’d like to see the team continue to build chemistry. Of course, that can only be obtained on the court with more reps, but Miami has three games left before the regular season to continue to gain continuity. When asked about allocating minutes in these last few contests, Coach Spo stated that he doesn’t feel the need to play a full rotation and wants to make sure that his guys are feeling fresh for the opener.
All in all, it seems as though the newcomers are grasping the HEAT culture, so that’s definitely a step in the right direction.
April 10-Magic at HEAT
April 8-HEAT at Magic
The HEAT are 3-2, while the Magic stand at 1-4 in preseason play. Goran Dragić leads Miami in passing with 6.8 assists per game. Evan Fournier leads Orlando in scoring with 18.5 points per contest on 57.1 percent shooting.
HEAT Offense: 104.6 (7) HEAT Defense: 99.4 (14) Magic Offense: 98.9 (20) Magic Defense: 105.4 (25)
By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
The Miami HEAT face the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday night at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. The HEAT fell to the Timberwolves 109-100 in their last meeting on October 8. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM. There will be no television coverage, but you can listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What did we learn from Miami’s victory in San Antonio?
Couper Moorhead: That Tyler Johnson can still shoot, Justise Winslow has a bunch of offensive potential that he’s still feeling out in the context of this roster and Erik Spoelstra has yet another interesting lineup at his disposal – going three guards with Goran Dragić, Dion Waiters (a starter in this game) and Tyler Johnson at times. While Dragić is the only true point of the group, all three can move the ball and attack closeouts with force. When the offense is designed around spacing the floor, hitting open shooters off penetration and forcing long rotations to the ball, having multiple guards on the floor who can accomplish all three of those goals is a potent option.
Joe Beguiristain: Although it’s just the preseason, we learned that Miami can hold its own with one of the best teams in the league. To be fair, LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t play, but it was still a step in the right direction for the HEAT.
The team held the Spurs to just 39 percent shooting through three quarters, including 1-of-9 from Kawhi Leonard. San Antonio also committed 19 turnovers in the contest.
On the flip side of the ball, Miami kept the ball moving and tallied 24 assists. As Coup mentioned above, the team found success with a three-guard lineup featuring Goran Dragić, Tyler Johnson and Dion Waiters. The trio combined for 15 assists on the evening and kept the HEAT in attack mode. Speaking of attack, Waiters bullied his way to the rim often and finished with 15 points. Johnson, meanwhile, led the team with 17 points and was scorching hot from distance thanks to the unselfishness of his teammates.
2: Having given up a large lead in the last game with Minnesota, what can Miami do better with regards to this matchup?
Couper: The third quarter last Saturday was a bit of a mess as Miami’s defense struggled to keep up with Minnesota’s youth and athleticism, leading to many Wolves paint attacks and free-throws. And as a result, the HEAT were taking the ball out of the rim on most possessions, meaning they were trying to score in the half-court – not something you would expect this team to be superior at when compared to their transition scoring. What was odd was that those issues hadn’t existed much in the first half, when the HEAT took a big lead.
Yes, the team was likely mentally fatigued after taking a multi-day detour to avoid the path of Hurricane Matthew, but Miami will simply have to respond better to runs than they did in this one. Fortunately, they responded significantly better the next time out when Brooklyn came to town.
Joe: After Miami raced out to a 62-47 halftime lead in that last matchup with the Timberwolves, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins went bonkers. The duo combined for 21 points in the third quarter and swung the game back in Minnesota’s favor.
This time around, Miami has to do a better job on the defensive end. While Wiggins shot just 3-of-11 against the HEAT, he attempted a whopping 16 free throws. Towns, meanwhile, shot six times from the charity stripe. Those guys are very hard to keep in front when they’re attacking downhill, but that’s when Miami’s rotations should come into play.
Thankfully, the HEAT have looked sharp in their two games since then. We’ll see what Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside have in store on Saturday night.
3: Now halfway through the preseason, are we closer to getting some answers to Miami’s unanswered questions?
Couper: Not particularly, which is exactly how preseason is designed. You use the first five or six games to experiment with how different lineups work within the system you’ve designed, then iron out the rotation with a final tune up in the last couple of outings. For a team like Miami with so many new faces and few perfectly designed roles/positions, there’s no reason to have answers this early on.
Joe: Kind of. With each passing game, we’re starting to get a feel for which guys work well together. As mentioned before, Tyler Johnson thrived alongside Dragić and Waiters against San Antonio. Maybe this time we’ll see a different group of players start to gain some chemistry. At the end of the day, you truly never know what you’re going to get until you see the lineup combinations in action.
November 17-Timberwolves at HEAT
November 5-HEAT at Timberwolves
The HEAT are 3-1 in the preseason, while the Timberwolves are 2-1. Both of these teams met a week ago in Kansas City, Missouri, with Minnesota winning 109-100. Miami is seeking its first win against the Timberwolves in a neutral-site game.
HEAT Offense: 106.1 (3) HEAT Defense: 98.3 (T-13) Timberwolves Offense: 95.1 (24) Timberwolves Defense: 93.0 (5)