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By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein
The Miami HEAT face the Los Angeles Lakers Friday night at STAPLES Center. The HEAT fell to the Lakers 131-113 in their last meeting on March 1. Tip-off is set for 10:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 10:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What was your main takeaway from Miami’s road loss in Sacramento?
Couper Moorhead: It just wasn’t their finest defense effort, and it was clear from the postgame interviews that everyone knew it. Sacramento didn’t have any one player really go off despite 20-plus point nights from Zach Randolph, it was just a little bit from everyone as the Kings were able to pound the paint during what was a rough shooting night for them until the final minutes. The HEAT were able to hang around thanks to the individual scoring of Goran Dragić and some hot shooting, eventually making a late run after being down 16 in the final period when they just about couldn’t miss a three if they tried, but it was allowing 67 points between the second and third quarters, then another 12 in the five-minute overtime, that wound up being the story of the game. Yes, the HEAT were missing Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside and Dwyane Wade, but defense is something the team counts on no matter who is available.
Joe Beguiristain: Although the HEAT were missing a number of key contributors, it was still a tough loss to take. For most of the contest, Sacramento seemed to have a little more energy and played looser as a result. In particular, De'Aaron Fox really fed off the home crowd and hit some big buckets late to finish with 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting. While Miami’s defense could have been a lot better overall, Fox actually shot a perfect 7-of-7 on contested field goal attempts on Wednesday night. Sometimes crazy things like that happen in this league.
On the bright side, the HEAT showed a lot of grit and turned a 16-point deficit into a four-point lead with 1:23 left in the fourth. It ultimately wasn’t enough in the end, but it was good to see Goran Dragić and Wayne Ellington lay it all on the line.
2: What did we learn from the last matchup with the Lakers?
Couper: This Lakers team is really starting to put something together. Yes, they’re young, not yet a playoff team and will have the growing pains that always accompany youth, but extremely hot shooting aside (16-of-29 from three) they earned their dominant victory when they visited Miami. Until a late flurry of contested threes from Isaiah Thomas, the Lakers were earning one open three after another but also pushing the ball ahead in transition at every opportunity with rookie Lonzo Ball always seeming to find the open man and Julius Randle relentlessly pushing in the open court. The Lakers might be without Kyle Kuzma Friday night, which further shortens a short rotation after the Lakers played just eight for most of the game in Miami, but it’s clear that Luke Walton is molding an consistent identity out of his team, one that includes being a better defensive group than you might think.
Joe: We learned that the Lakers are very strong on the offensive end, as they shot 59.5 percent from the field and had six guys score in double-figures in that last matchup.
After Julius Randle set the tone early on, Brandon Ingram and Isaiah Thomas caught fire in the second half and hit some tough shots from the perimeter. Dwyane Wade did all he could to try and get Miami back in it, but Los Angeles responded time and time again.
Since that last meeting on the first of the month, the Lakers have continued to light up the scoreboard. While they push tempo often for easy buckets in transition, they’ve also taken a ton of above the break threes recently. Even though Los Angeles hasn’t converted those looks at a very efficient rate, Miami still needs to be wary of that tendency and remember what happened a few weeks ago.
3: Is there anything Miami can do to better defend Isaiah Thomas when he comes off the bench?
Couper: As the HEAT just dealt with in the form of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in a loss on Monday night in Portland, Isaiah Thomas is yet another quick guard capable of hitting the dribble three in pick-and-roll that’s increasingly becoming the toughest shot in the league to defend. Thomas had been having an uneven season returning from injury but he looked closer to his old self than ever in scoring 29 against Miami, including 6-of-11 from three. And there’s no perfect answer for defending him when that tough shot is falling. You can’t overplay in pick-and-roll because Thomas is quick enough to burn the big defender and get to the rim, and if you sit back he has plenty of space to take whatever shot he wants. There’s a ton of pressure on the guard to fight over the screen and get a hand in Thomas’ way, but you can’t depend on defenders to perfectly navigate every pick in front of them so it falls on the big man to manage the space between Thomas and the rim as best as possible until the defense recovers. All that said, Thomas is still only shooting 51.1 percent at the rim this season so it might be best to force him to drive rather than conceding the quick jumper.
Joe: As Coup mentioned above, there isn’t an easy answer to this question. Thomas is a guy who can get hot in a hurry and hit some extremely tough shots under duress. Thanks to his low center of gravity, Thomas is able to weave around screens very quickly for a pull-up jumper or a pretty clean look at the basket. As such, the HEAT’s guards have to anticipate the screen and get over it to disrupt Thomas in any way possible.
Another thing to take note of is where he will end up in the rotation Friday night. With Kyle Kuzma out Wednesday against the Warriors due to a sprained right ankle, Thomas got the start and fared pretty well alongside Lonzo Ball. If Kuzma is able to go against Miami, I.T. will likely come off the bench as usual. We'll see what happens.
March 1 – Lakers at HEAT
The HEAT enter the contest at 36-33. The Lakers have won two of three and are 31-37 on the year. Goran Dragić is averaging 22 points per game on 56.8 percent shooting over his past three outings. Lonzo Ball leads Los Angeles in assists (7.1) and steals (1.7) per game. Dwyane Wade (mild left hamstring strain) and Hassan Whiteside (left hip pain) are out. Josh Richardson (left foot soreness) is questionable.
HEAT Offense: 104.4 (20) HEAT Defense: 104.5 (10) Lakers Offense: 104.2 (21) Lakers Defense: 105.6 (12)
By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Jordan Johnson
The Miami HEAT face the Sacramento Kings Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center. The HEAT fell to the Kings 89-88 in their last meeting on Jan. 25. Tip-off is set for 10:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 9:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1. While the HEAT lost by 16 in Portland, were there any positive takeaways from their comeback bid in the second half?
Couper Moorhead: Well, yes, because the comeback was largely driven by Justise Winslow. Goran Dragić deserves a ton of credit for even keeping Miami relatively close with most of the team’s scorers having an off night and Hassan Whiteside out again, but once Portland went up 19 and went to their bench, Winslow – with Dwyane Wade not playing – took the helm of the HEAT’s second unit and went to work. Defensively he shut down CJ McCollum for a stretch and then ran the offense on the other end, getting to the rim for a couple of tough finishes and then hitting a three. By the time Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkić returned to the floor the HEAT were closing within three points, and then Lillard took over to put a capper on the evening. There’s still plenty of room to grow, but Winslow is doing all the growing, each game, right in front of us.
Joe Beguiristain: Definitely.
As Coup mentioned above, Justise Winslow was a monster during the HEAT’s 18-2 run that cut the deficit to three with 6:38 left in the game. Throughout the fourth quarter, Winslow attacked the basket, knocked down a couple of threes and defended both C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard very well. In other words, the 21-year-old was his usual versatile self.
Still, it’s kind of crazy that this has become the norm for Winslow over the past few weeks. In his last nine outings, the former Duke Blue Devil has averaged 12.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game on 53.1 percent shooting from the field, including 54.2 percent from downtown. What’s more, Miami has outscored opponents by 13.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor during that same span.
That’s pretty impressive.
2: How were the Kings able to pull out a comeback victory last time in Miami?
Couper: They were able to hang around just a little bit too long largely because the HEAT were having one of their worst offensive games of the season. The Kings were up two after Miami scored just 17 in the first quarter, by halftime it was tied and after three the HEAT led by just one. Yes, Miami led by 12 points midway through the final period but they scored just 16 points overall in the period as the Kings stormed back. Had the HEAT not shot 37.8 percent overall they might have been able to be a more definitive seal on the game a little earlier, but such as it was (with the team relatively healthy outside of missing Tyler Johnson) the Kings made their run at exactly the right time and came away with a one-point victory.
Joe: The Kings played pretty well defensively and held the HEAT in check for most of the night. Outside of Goran Dragić and Wayne Ellington, Miami struggled to score consistently and Sacramento took advantage. In fact, the Kings dug out of a 12-point hole midway through the fourth and came away with a one-point victory thanks to a clutch put-back jam by De'Aaron Fox. Of course, Buddy Hield also played a role with seven points on 3-of-4 shooting in the final period.
While it’s easy to just chalk this up as a bad offensive night for the HEAT, they made enough plays early in the fourth to get the win. Unfortunately, they just couldn't seal the deal down the stretch. With all that in mind, Miami should be hungry to avenge one of its toughest losses of the season.
3: Is there anything the HEAT can better do to defend Buddy Hield after he scored 24 points off the bench?
Couper: Sacramento didn’t exactly have an elite offensive evening themselves, scoring just 93.5 points per 100 possessions, but it was Buddy Hield, shooting 10-of-15 and 4-of-7 from three, who kept them hanging around all the same. While Hield is more than capable of hitting a variety of perimeter shots, running off floppy sets, coming off flare screens or launching off the dribble, most of his looks were fairly difficult. The HEAT will need to step up just another step to crowd him given that he isn’t the same threat to drive that Lillard and McCollum were on Monday, and if Hield hits those contested looks then Miami will have to live with it.
If however, they can stick with Hield better before the catch and limit his attempts altogether, the Kings will be severely limited in their perimeter options. In that game in Miami, Sacramento attempted just five triples that didn’t come off Hield’s hands.
Joe: Whenever you face a solid shooter like Hield, it’s all about limiting their airspace. Although Hield primarily takes pull-up jumpers, he’s significantly more efficient on catch-and-shoot opportunities within the flow of the offense. Case in point: he’s shooting 95-of-189 (50.3 percent) on catch-and-shoot treys this season.
As such, the HEAT have to make sure there’s a body on him at all times regardless of the situation. If Hield is looking to attack off the dribble as usual, more pressure can get the ball out of his hands. If he’s off the ball and his defender slides over to help elsewhere, Miami’s rotations have to be sharp so Hield doesn’t get too clean a look.
Jan. 25 – Kings at HEAT
The HEAT have won four of six and are 36-32. The Kings have dropped three of four and enter the contest at 21-47. Goran Dragić leads Miami in points (17.2) and assists (4.9) per game. Zach Randolph leads Sacramento in scoring at 14.8 points per game. Dwyane Wade (mild left hamstring strain) and Hassan Whiteside (left hip pain) are out. Josh Richardson (left foot soreness) is listed as doubtful.
HEAT Offense: 104.3 (20) HEAT Defense: 104.4 (10) Kings Offense: 101.5 (29) Kings Defense: 110.1 (29)