11/22 Game Preview: Celtics at Heat
MIAMI -- Nearing the quarter-pole of the NBA regular season, Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving is making his case as league MVP.
Irving has led Boston to 16 consecutive wins -- three short of the franchise record set in 2008-2009 -- and the Celtics (16-2) will be favored once again when they visit the struggling Miami Heat (7-9) on Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
On Monday, Irving scored a season-high 47 points as Boston overcame a 13-point, fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Dallas Mavericks 110-102 in overtime.
Irving made 16-of-22 shots from the floor, including 5-of-7 from the three-point line, becoming the first Celtics player since Larry Bird in 1975 to score at least 45 points while shooting 70 percent or better. Irving scored 10 of his points in overtime, on 4-of-4 shooting.
"He's so good in those (late-game) moments," Celtics coach Brad Stevens told The Boston Globe. "You want to give him the appropriate amount of room."
The Celtics have trailed by double digits in five of their 16 wins. Irving has helped dig them out of those holes. He leads the league with 65 points in clutch situations, which is defined as final five minutes of regulation or overtime in which the score is within five points.
In addition, Boston is plus-40 with Irving on the court in those clutch situations.
But while Boston has risen up in the clutch, Miami has faded. The Heat is the worst second-half team in the league so far this season.
Miami's first-half field-goal percentage (51.1) is sixth-best in the league. But the Heat's second-half shooting percentage (39.6) is last.
Heat point guard Goran Dragic said he would like to make an adjustment, getting on the court earlier before the dreaded third quarter begins.
"We should go on the floor with like seven minutes on the clock and just start warming up," Dragic told The Miami Herald. "We feel like that (in) the third quarter -- we're not ready enough."
The Heat averages a league-low 20.4 points in the third quarter. They have been outscored by 59 points in that same third quarter, which is the worst mark in the Eastern Conference.
"Maybe on Wednesday we won't even go to the locker room at halftime," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told The Herald. "Maybe we'll just warm up for 12 minutes."
Spoelstra was likely joking about that proposed plan, but it's not a laughing matter for Miami as Heat players seem to lose their competitive edge once they decompress at halftime.
As for Irving, he is averaging 22.5 points and 5.3 assists this season. He has made 89.3 percent of his free throws and has a 53.4 effective field goal percentage, which adjusts for the value of three-pointers.
Dragic, his opposite number, leads Miami in scoring (18.3) and assists (4.7). He has made 81.5 percent of his free throws and has a 51.4 effective field goal percentage.
That Irving-Dragic matchup will be interesting to follow. But two other players to watch are Heat starting shooting guard Dion Waiters and Heat backup forward/center Kelly Olynyk.
Waiters is coming off a scoreless, 0-for-10 effort against the Indiana Pacers on Monday.
Olynyk will be in the spotlight because the Celtics are his former team. He joined Miami this season and is averaging 8.9 points and 5.3 rebounds. He had 14 points and nine rebounds against Boston last month.