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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)
By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Kent Smith
The Miami HEAT face the Charlotte Hornets Thursday night at Spectrum Center. 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)