Dallas Mavericks at Miami HEAT Game Preview

Dion Waiters
Photo Credit: Michael Reaves

The Miami HEAT host the Dallas Mavericks Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! 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 allowed the Magic to come back and take an important game Tuesday night?

Couper Moorhead: It helped that Orlando found their range from deep, particularly Jonathan Issac who had a rough first half offensively but bounced back to hit three triples in the second, but it was their defense that sealed the deal as they almost held Miami to three straight quarters below 20 points until a late comeback flurry from the HEAT. Miami has had some trouble scoring down the stretch of close games lately when defenses really locked in and Steve Clifford’s group did its best to ensure that happened again as they made rotation after rotation to keep the ball in front, pack the paint and force Miami to hit some jumpers to sustain their offense. With Miami shooting sub-30 percent from three in the second half, that was all it took for an important game to go the wrong way.

Joe Beguiristain: While the Magic upped their defensive pressure in the second half as Coup mentioned above, Nikola Vučević also did his thing on the offensive end. In fact, the 28-year-old recorded 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, eight boards and three assists after the break. And even though Dion Waiters and Dwyane Wade did their best to combat Vučević with 23 of the HEAT’s 29 points in the fourth on 8-of-14 shooting, it just wasn’t enough in the end.

Before we wrap up this question, though, we should point out the hot streak Waiters has been on for a while now. Over the past 10 games, the former Syracuse star is shooting a team-high 44.1 percent on 6.8 attempts per contest from downtown.

That’s “Philly Cheese” for ya.

Luka Dončić2: What did we learn from the previous matchup with Dallas?

Couper: If they can do anything about it, the HEAT aren’t going to let Luka Dončić beat them. Erik Spoelstra threw a ton of traps at Dončić throughout the game, using Dallas’ lack of secondary playmakers – this was after they traded for Kristaps Porziņģis, who won’t play until next season – against them as Dončić was regularly forced to give up the ball and let someone else make a play. But Dončić, for his part, is both a talented passer and big for his position so even with Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo jumping out at him he was able to avoid reset passes and sling the ball either to open shooters or to someone who could find an open shooter.

The problem for Dallas was they shot 15-of-52 (28.8 percent) from three, and had just 28 points in the paint, hence Miami having a lead as large as 21 points.

We have to allow that there is a version of the same game where Dallas gets hot from deep, forcing Miami out of their aggressive defense and allowing Dončić to affect the game more with his other skills, but even that version probably won’t involve a ton of Dallas scoring in the paint given their lack of size. This is as good a matchup as Adebayo and Whiteside will have in the league for their own individual offense in the paint. Otherwise, if Miami is locked in defensively, this will likely come down to whether Dallas can make the shots Dončić creates when he’s forced to give it up.

Before you think that sounds like a guaranteed win against a team with just three wins since All-Star, note that they did beat Golden State, in Golden State, by 35 the other night when they hit 21-of-49 from deep. Variance can bite anyone on the wrong night.

Joe: We saw just how strong the HEAT can be when they’re firing on all cylinders.

In that last matchup against Dallas just before the All-Star Break, Miami recorded 24 assists and shot 40 percent from downtown as a result. And while Waiters led the way with three treys, three other guys hit multiple shots from deep before the night was done.

Then on the flip side of the ball, the HEAT (especially James Johnson) were disciplined against Luka Dončić and forced him to give up the ball more often than not. And now that Tim Hardaway Jr. is out with a left tibia stress reaction, it could be even tougher for Dallas to keep up.

That said, rookie guard Jalen Brunson has played quite well of late, averaging 17.0 points and 4.0 assists per game on 58.1 percent shooting over his last eight.

We’ll see if the Villanova product can continue to make up for the Mavericks’ lack of offensive firepower.

3: What does the playoff picture look like now that the HEAT don’t have any divisional games left on the schedule?

Couper: The loss to Orlando dropped Miami back down to the No. 9 seed. Though they are still tied with the Magic in the loss column, Orlando wrapped up the head-to-head tiebreaker – and with Charlotte, one game back in the loss column, also holding the tiebreaker that means if there was any three-way tie Miami would be on the outside looking in. For that matter, Detroit is also likely to have the tiebreaker due to their conference record, and the tiebreaker with Brooklyn will come down to the final day of the season. In other words, from here on out Miami cannot just keep pace with everyone else in hopes of getting into the tournament. They need to finish a game up in the loss column in order to stay ahead of any of the other four teams in their vicinity to be really safe, since even if they gain the tiebreaker over Brooklyn in the final game they could theoretically lose out on a three or four-way tie.

So, they’ve got their work cut out for them. We could break down everyone’s remaining schedule as much as we want, but the reality is that this time of year is when many other teams have less to play for, either being out of the playoff picture or having their seed more or less locked in. Night to night, you never know which roster of which team will be out there. All the HEAT can do is focus on what’s in front of them and win as many as they can over the final eight games. Going 4-4 over that stretch is probably the minimum to get in – with or without that Brooklyn game depending on how necessary the tiebreaker is – but you have to approach these two weeks like you can’t afford another loss.

Joe: The HEAT’s loss to the Magic was tough because they lost out on the tiebreaker and no longer control their own destiny, but there’s still time to right the ship.

Simply put, Miami has to compartmentalize, block out the noise and just focus on the task at hand. And that’s to lay it all on the line these last eight games of the season to try and get into the postseason for the 21st time in franchise history.

The time is now.

Mavericks at HEAT Head To Head

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won three straight against the Mavericks, including a 112-101 victory in their most recent meeting on Feb. 13.
  • Miami has dropped two of three and is 36-38, while Dallas has dropped 16 of 19 and enters the contest at 29-45.
  • Dwyane Wade needs 24 points to reach 500 for his career against the Mavericks.
  • Luka Dončić leads Dallas in points (21.1), rebounds (7.6), assists (5.9) and steals (1.1) per game.
  • Justise Winslow (Right Thigh Bruise) is questionable, while Josh Richardson (Left Heel Bruise) and Rodney McGruder (Left Knee Soreness) are out.

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 107.1 (25)
  • HEAT Defense: 107.4 (8)
  • Mavericks Offense: 108.6 (20)
  • Mavericks Defense: 110.3 (19)

For live in-game updates of Thursday night’s contest, follow @MiamiHEAT, @CoupNBA and @JoeBeguiristain on Twitter.

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