Trail Blazers Vs. Heat Preview

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By BRETT HUSTON

There's plenty of frustration circling around the Miami Heat, who are watching their chance to grab the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed slip away in a stretch where they're struggling to get stops.

The Portland Trail Blazers are having even deeper issues on the defensive end.

A banged-up LeBron James will try to help the Heat climb out of their funk Monday night against the Trail Blazers, who will play a sixth straight game without LaMarcus Aldridge as they try to solve their road woes.

Indiana has dropped six of its last 11 games, leaving the door open for Miami (47-21) to steal home-court advantage throughout the East playoffs, but it hasn't been able to take advantage. The Heat's 105-95 loss at New Orleans on Saturday was their seventh in 11 games, the last three of which have come to clubs that will be home for the postseason.

"Our locker room is angry," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We're not accustomed to this type of play, these type of standards, particularly on the defensive end, and if we want to change, we have to look inward."

Already playing through back soreness, James twisted his ankle in the third quarter, but neither injury will keep him on the sidelines against the Trail Blazers (45-25) for a second time this season. James sat out as the Heat visited Portland on Dec. 28, when Chris Bosh's 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds left - the last of his 37 points - lifted Miami to a 108-107 win.

The Blazers shot 50.6 percent in that game, one of 12 times in the Heat's first 56 games they allowed opponents to top 50 percent. Six of Miami's last 12 opponents have made more than half of their shots, including the lottery-bound Cavaliers, Celtics and Hornets in their last three road games.

"This is unacceptable," Bosh said. "We have to draw the line somewhere. If we don't change this, we will be watching the championship from home."

The Blazers might feel the same way considering their already shaky defense has been even worse of late. Portland has given up 110.1 points per game while dropping six of nine, ceding its spot in the West's top four in the process.

The Blazers' latest effort was especially ugly, as they allowed Charlotte to shoot 52.1 percent Saturday in a 124-94 loss to start this five-game trip - their fifth road defeat in the last six games.

"You don't want to just dismiss it as one of those games," coach Terry Stotts said. "You want to learn from it. But losing by 30 points, we don't have the luxury not to play better."

They'll have to play without Aldridge again Monday - and possibly for longer. The All-Star went through extended shooting drills on Saturday morning but by Sunday afternoon Stotts had ruled him out against the Heat due to his back issues.

That could give Miami a big edge on the interior, where it outscored Portland in the paint 60-32 in the first meeting without James.

It's unclear if Dwyane Wade or Greg Oden will suit up after missing Saturday's game to rest.

The Heat have shot 30.2 percent from 3-point range in their last three games, but perhaps facing a Portland defense that's struggled to guard the arc will help end that drought. Trail Blazers opponents have shot 42.1 percent from long distance in their last seven games.

Bosh has averaged 32.7 points and shot 68.3 percent in his last three games against Portland.