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By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
The Miami HEAT host the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT fell to the Bucks 116-108 in their last meeting on January 13. 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 was your main takeaway from Miami’s victory over the Dallas Mavericks?
Couper Moorhead: Mainly that Miami found a way to win a close game down the stretch. Much was made of the interesting Hassan Whiteside-Dirk Nowitzki matchup at center, and while Nowitzki earned more open jumpers on the perimeter than Whiteside got efficient looks inside overall, with the rest of the Mavericks so unwilling to challenge Whiteside in the paint those open pick-and-pop looks became one of the only options for Dallas when mostly starters were in at the end. This was especially true when Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews were off the floor to start the fourth quarter, when you got the sense Dallas was trying to hang in long enough to buy their closers some rest, but when James Johnson effectively shut down Barnes in the post the Mavericks were again left with mostly perimeter shots. Miami’s offense enjoyed an explosive performance from Goran Dragic, but it was their defense throughout the quarter which kept Dallas at bay.
Joe Beguiristain: My main takeaway was that Miami continued to play solid defense and got out in transition whenever the opportunity presented itself. After limiting Houston to 40 percent shooting on Tuesday night, the HEAT forced the Mavericks to shoot just 38.1 percent after halftime. In particular, Rodney McGruder and Dion Waiters did a nice job of defending Wesley Matthews, while Tyler Johnson made things tough on J.J. Barea. When you couple that with yet another fantastic offensive outing from Goran Dragić (32 points on 11-of-15 shooting), you have yourself a recipe for success.
As a whole, Miami’s improved defense of late has allowed the team to get easier buckets on the other end. In fact, the HEAT have tallied a plus-6.5 net rating over the past two games, which is pretty good. Of course, it’s a very small sample size, but things are trending upward on what has become a nice little run this week.
2: What did we learn from last week’s game against Milwaukee?
Couper: These aren’t the defense-first Bucks that you might be used to. Milwaukee is sitting comfortably as a Top 10 offense right now, with news that one of their best scorers in Khris Middleton could return around the All-Star, and they showed why against a Miami team at the end of a six-game road trip with a relentless attack in the paint coupled with efficient outside shooting.
Some of this can be attributed to tired legs for Miami. Slow rotations to the rim led to a number of dunks and layups, and 13 offensive rebounds kept allowing Milwaukee to put pressure on those same rotations. Rested and at home, some of that should be cleaned up, but we also have to note that Greg Monroe was back in Milwaukee’s rotation for this one and the scoring combination of him and Michael Beasley proved to be too much once the HEAT were playing from behind.
The good news is that Miami did pretty well scoring themselves, especially in hitting 12 threes, but when they opened the game with a 30-point quarter the Bucks were scoring 42.
Joe: You may remember that game for a few monster jams in transition from Giannis Antetokounmpo. To put it simply, the “Greek Freak” lived up to his moniker and nearly notched a triple-double against Miami on January 13.
That said, the HEAT actually outscored the Bucks in the second half and fought back to cut the deficit to 99-91 with 7:53 to play. Naturally, both T. Johnson and James Johnson led the charge on Miami’s comeback bid, combining for 10 points, eight assists and two blocks in the fourth. Unfortunately, Antetokounmpo proved to be too much in the end and helped seal the deal for the Bucks. Since then, nothing has really changed for the newly minted All-Star, as he’s been on an absolute tear over his last five games.
While he’s been fantastic, we also learned from that last matchup that Milwaukee has a decent amount of depth at a number of positions. In particular, Greg Monroe and Michael Beasley have been the catalysts for the team off the bench. Ever since Beasley’s offensive explosion against the Spurs on January 10, he’s received more playing time. Monroe, meanwhile, has experienced nearly the same increase in minutes in the month of January.
3: How can Miami do a better job of slowing the Bucks’ offense this time?
Couper: While the HEAT only wound up with 8 turnovers, many of those came early and helped Milwaukee to get out in transition where Giannis Antetokounmpo was seemingly dunking from the free-throw line. As talented as the Bucks are, you can grind their offense down a little just by keeping bodies back in transition and getting your defense set. If that means being a little less aggressive on the offensive glass then that’s probably a fair trade.
Otherwise, it’s everything we mentioned before. Back at home, just defend with more energy and more awareness. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of getting back to what you normally do and being better.
Joe: For starters, the HEAT could do a better job of taking care of the ball. A big reason why the Bucks jumped out to such a quick lead was due to a few early turnovers by Miami. While the HEAT cleaned things up later in the contest, Milwaukee established a nice rhythm in the first quarter and rode that momentum until Miami came back in the fourth.
Otherwise, the HEAT have to turn Antetokounmpo into a jump shooter. Although he’s started to knock down the mid-range jumper recently, you’ll live with that over giving up an easy drive to the bucket. Like with any great player, it’ll take a collective effort from McGruder, J. Johnson and even Waiters to limit the 22-year-old as much as possible.
January 13-HEAT at Bucks
November 17-Bucks at HEAT
The HEAT have won two straight and are 13-30 on the year. The Bucks have lost four straight and are 20-22. Goran Dragić leads Miami in points (19.4) and assists (6.3) per game. Giannis Antetokounmpo leads Milwaukee in points (23.5), rebounds (8.8), assists (5.6), blocks (2.0) and steals (1.8) per contest.
HEAT Offense: 100.8 (29) HEAT Defense: 104.6 (11) Bucks Offense: 107.0 (9) Bucks Defense: 105.8 (18)
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.
February 3-HEAT at Mavericks
January 1-Mavericks at HEAT
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.
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 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.
February 2-HEAT at Rockets
November 1-Rockets at HEAT
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.
HEAT Offense: 100.6 (29) HEAT Defense: 105.0 (13) Rockets Offense: 112.6 (3) Rockets Defense: 105.7 (19)