Miami HEAT at Phoenix Suns Game Preview

Photo Credit: Randy Belice

The Miami HEAT face the Phoenix Suns Friday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Tip-off is set for 9:00 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: What did you take away from Miami’s home loss to the Orlando Magic?

Couper Moorhead: With Orlando scoring 105 points in what these days is considered a glacially paced game, it might seem easy to think of this as a bad defensive night and move on. But that wasn’t necessarily the case. The HEAT defended mostly to their standards throughout the evening, with the Magic enjoying an outlier 12-of-24 night from three (including 3-of-3 from Aaron Gordon). It was their offense that fell short in this one as the team scored just 12 points in a third quarter that relinquished control of the game to the visitors. And with just four turnovers in the period, it mostly just came down to missing shots.

While it’s true for any team, this HEAT group has a very particular symbiotic relationship between the two ends of the floor. When they defend well and get stops, they typically do well attacking a scrambling, recovering defense even if all those possessions aren’t fast-breaks. But when they’re taking the ball out of the basket, they are unfortunately ranked No. 29 in the league in half-court offense. So even on a night when they defended well, with Orlando’s shooting being relatively defense-agnostic for that quarter in particular, the HEAT – in an already slow game – were always trying to score against a set, and improved, Orlando defense. We’ll continue to remind that Miami’s lead playmaker, Goran Dragić, has been out with a knee injury and it’s not helping the offense one bit, but more as much as we discuss defense in this space, we can’t lose sight of how crucial scoring is in this age, either.

Joe Beguiristain: As Coup mentioned above, the HEAT struggled mightily in the third quarter against the Magic and couldn’t quite climb out of the hole they dug themselves into. That said, Kelly Olynyk did his usual damage in the fourth quarter with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the period to help narrow the deficit a few times. What’s more, KO also did the little things, as he contested eight shots, racked up four deflections and recovered three loose balls on the night.

In particular over the past four games, Olynyk has come up big for Miami in crunch time thanks to his budding chemistry with Dwyane Wade and ability to stretch the floor. In fact, the KO/D.Wade pairing has tallied a 23.1 net rating in 80 minutes during that time span.

That’s pretty good.

Before we wrap up this question though, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Bam Adebayo. Simply put, the 21-year-old displayed his elite athleticism on a few occasions against Orlando and competed hard on the defensive end more often than not. We’ll see how he fares in the starting lineup this time around with Hassan Whiteside back in Miami expecting the birth of his first child.

Igor Kokoškov, Deandre Ayton2: How have the Suns changed this season?

Couper: After taking Deandre Ayton with the No. 1 pick in last June’s draft and trading up to acquire Mikal Bridges later in the lottery, the Suns made some moves geared toward winning now with an assortment of young, developing players already on the roster. They signed Trevor Ariza away from Houston, they added the ageless Jamal Crawford and they traded for Ryan Anderson to round out the rotation. They also waived Tyson Chandler after the season started so give Richaun Holmes more minutes as the backup to Ayton.

Perhaps the biggest change was hiring the well-respected Igor Kokoškov – who coached Dragić’s Slovenian National Team – as head coach, though those changes haven’t quite panned out so far. The Suns this year are shooting fewer shots at the rim and slightly more threes, but they’re No. 28 on both offense and defense. It’s still a very young group, but the gains thought possible with the veteran additions and influx of lottery talent haven’t materialized yet.

Joe: As Coup chronicled in his response, the Suns made a bunch of changes with the additions of Trevor Ariza, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Elie Okobo, Ryan Anderson, Jamal Crawford, Richaun Holmes and De'Anthony Melton. But despite all the new faces, things have remained the same for the Suns, as the team is ranked dead last with a minus-11 net rating.

To be fair, Phoenix’s leading scorers in Devin Booker and T.J. Warren have missed a bunch of games recently. And while guys like Josh Jackson (13.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists over his last five) and Troy Daniels (14.0 points per game on 40 percent shooting from deep over his past two outings) have stepped up, it just hasn’t been enough.

3: Where will Miami need to focus defensively with Devin Booker out?

Couper: It’s tough to say, exactly. There’s an argument to be made that no team in the league depends on a single player for offensive production more than the Suns do on Booker, as they score a solid 106.9 points per 100 with him on the court and a very poor 93.2 per 100 when he’s off. Phoenix already doesn’t have much in the way of true point guards on the roster and were relying on Booker, generally a shooting guard, to initiate a ton of their offense. There’s still Ayton to operate as an offensive hub in the post (Hassan Whiteside will not play Friday night), but it’ll be a team effort, especially with this team playing in transition far less than the team of a season ago.

Joe: With Booker and Warren out, the Suns have had plenty of trouble scoring. With its nine-point first quarter against the Trail Blazers on Thursday, Phoenix became the first team in the shot clock era to be held under 10 points in the opening quarter of consecutive games.

That’s tough.

But as Erik Spoelstra likes to say, that doesn’t guarantee anything. The HEAT still have to impose their will and give the Suns no breathing room, especially since Phoenix turns over the ball a lot (16.7 times per game to be exact) and gives up plenty of points off its mistakes (opponents are scoring 20.9 points per contest off those miscues).

 We’ll see how it all shakes out.

HEAT at Suns Head To Head

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won 15 of their last 16 games against the Suns.
  • Miami is 9-14 on the year, while Phoenix is 4-21.
  • Josh Richardson leads the HEAT in scoring at 19.7 points per game.
  • Deandre Ayton leads the Suns with 10.1 rebounds per contest.
  • Dion Waiters (Left Ankle Surgery), Wayne Ellington (Personal Reasons) and Hassan Whiteside (Personal Reasons - expecting birth of his first child) did not travel with the team to Phoenix and are out. However, Ellington and Whiteside are both expected to rejoin the team during the six-game road trip.
  • Duncan Robinson (Sioux Falls Assignment) and Yante Maten (Sioux Falls Assignment) are also out, but Goran Dragić (Right Knee Injury) is probable.

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 105.2 (27)
  • HEAT Defense: 107.1 (12)
  • Suns Offense: 101.4 (28)
  • Suns Defense: 112.4 (28)

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