Coach’s Corner: Allan Bristow on Heat vs. Suns
By Allan Bristow (At told to Andrew Pearson)


Bristow
Miami is coming off a tough road loss to the Hornets on Wednesday night in which Pat Riley really laid into the team for their lack of hustle and effort. Miami is still a team trying to find its identity. Until they establish themselves as a good road team, they’re more of trial and error. Getting Shaq back has been key, but getting him healthy and into an offensive rhythm is most important. Everyone sees Shaq, and what he is doing in January and February. That isn’t the important thing. The important thing is that he get in a rhythm in time for the playoffs. As a team, they are going through the same thing, trying to find a rhythm. Whenever you go through a coaching change, the first week, or first couple of weeks, you are on a high. There is a new freshness, and you’re excited with the change. Riley has tried to employ more of an up tempo style, which has been successful at home. They want to score more points. At this point, they’re sort of ebbing as to what they are going to get night in and night out. They can’t continue to get inconsistent play across the board and expect to be the type of team that preseason predictions pegged them as.

The Suns have been one of the biggest surprises and are coming off a 105-85 win over Philadelphia. They’re on top of their division at 20-11 and Mike D’Antoni has done a terrific job of replacing his best inside player, Amare Stoudemire, who is without question one of the most dominant young players in the league today. They’re going to be that much better when he returns. When Stoudemire went down, I am sure they were looking at it as, hey let's just make the playoffs. Now they’re one of the top teams in the league without Stoudemire as far as record wise and the way they’re playing. I commend him and his staff in how they haven’t really missed a beat.

KEYS TO THE GAME

Expect the Heat to focus on keeping Nash from reaching the paint.
Glenn James/NBAE/Getty Images

The penetration into the lane by Steve Nash is a concern for Miami, especially after Chris Paul and Speedy Claxton were so successful the other night. Good coaches know that they have to establish a good defense, especially in the lane. Miami will certainly try to do that. But Phoenix is probably the best in the league at penetrating because they have the best point guard in the league. Miami’s strength, besides having Dwyane Wade, is their inside game. If the game becomes more defensive minded, then it becomes a little bit of an advantage for Miami because of their power inside with Shaq and Alonzo. The interior for Miami can always be a huge factor on the outcome of a game. That would be something Miami would try to do, is establish some type of defensive rhythm, where they are stopping Phoenix. Hopefully they stop Phoenix six out of 10 times instead of four out of 10 times.

One way to take the inside game away from teams that big is to run and to penetrate and to get into an up tempo type game. If this game becomes an offensive display for the majority of the game, it will be an advantage for Phoenix. Their philosophy is they want to score points, they want to get up and down, they want to get into the lane and with Nash they can do that with ease, even when there is good defense. Miami is going to have a very, very tough time controlling Nash, as all teams do.

Rebounding is a huge key for Phoenix. They can’t let Miami just come in and establish themselves. They’ve done an outstanding job with Stoudemire out. You look at their team on paper and their inside players and you wonder how can they have their record. But they’re doing a terrific job. What Kurt Thomas is doing, with Marion leading the team at almost 12 boards per game, and Brian Grant coming off the bench, they have done an excellent job rebounding. That is going to be the key for them. They don’t necessarily have to come out on top, but they just can’t be completely demolished on the boards.

BOTTOM LINE

From a fans point of view this is one of the premier games of the season between two teams that knocked on the NBA championship door last year and it should be a very, very exciting game. I think the Heat is going to respond in a very positive way. They’re on their longest road trip of the year, a 13-day, seven-game trip. The games don’t get easier, they get harder. They’ve been very successful at home, 12-4, but only so-so on the road at 7-10. They have to establish themselves as a good road team. I think this game will bring them into focus. Any time you don’t do well against a team that isn’t supposed to be at the same level as you, like the Hornets, you usually respond in a very positive way, no matter what team you’re playing. Phoenix is a tough team to beat at their place, but I think Miami is going to respond.

-- Allan Bristow appears courtesy of the National Basketball Coaches Association