Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami HEAT Game Preview

The Miami HEAT host the Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: What happened against Chicago?

Couper Moorhead: If we were to compare this to another recent loss, it would be when Miami lost to the Atlanta Hawks by 24 points on the road earlier in January. In both games, the HEAT had a ton of good looks from three that didn’t fall – 28.6 percent against Chicago, 14.7 percent against Atlanta – while their opponents had comparatively worse Shot Quality, as far as expected efficiency and value of their attempts. And yet, as it happens, the results outweighed the process in both games and the HEAT took a tough loss. That doesn’t mean Miami played particularly well in either game, nor are we offering excuses, but the context of each loss was very similar and as Erik Spoelstra noted afterwards, when you’re getting consistently good looks and they aren’t falling that can have a negative effect on the team’s energy. Not to mention that when the other team is hitting relatively tough shots, it means the HEAT are regularly having to produce offense in the half-court – a formula that is not typically their path to success.

Joe Beguiristain: The HEAT just couldn’t get anything going on either end, and Bobby Portis landed the finishing blow with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the fourth quarter.

And on a night where Miami shot just 40 percent (22-of-55) on uncontested looks, the team didn’t bring its usual energy on the defensive end to make up for that. However, it’s important to note that the Bulls shot an unreal 60 percent (21-of-35) on contested attempts.

In other words, Wednesday night ended up being a perfect storm. And as Erik Spoelstra said after practice on Thursday, the HEAT’s performance wasn’t indicative of what they’re capable of.

“We’re simply just much better, much more competitive, tougher, [and we usually show] a lot more resolve than we showed in a game that could have been winnable even shooting what we shot,” Coach Spo said. “And we’ve had enough of those kind of games where the ball [is] not dropping or we’re not in a great flow, and we still find a way to be [competitive] and have a collective resolve to gut it out and find a win.”

Paul George

Couper: The Thunder’s big play over the offseason was re-signing Paul George to a long-term deal, to which George has responded with possibly the best two-way season of his career. Oklahoma City has their core set, and they made some moves around the edges to accentuate it, notably signing Nerlens Noel to play backup center behind the always steady Steven Adams, then acquiring Dennis Schröder from the Atlanta Hawks to backup Russell Westbrook and make this one of the deeper Thunder rosters of the past few years.

That depth is showing, too. While Westbrook isn’t having his best shooting season and the team is fairly inconsistent from the perimeter overall, they’ve proven to be one of the best defenses in the league. And that defense has led them to a points differential equivalent to that of Toronto, not to mention the third spot in a Western Conference that offers little night-to-night respite.

Joe: As Coup mentioned above, Oklahoma City brought in a few young vets in Dennis Schröder and Nerlens Noel to round out its already strong core. And thus far, both guys have fit in quite well with their new teammates.

Schröder, in particular, had a torrid November in which he started a handful of games for the injured Russell Westbrook. And while the 25-year-old former Hawk has cooled off a bit since then, he still has one of the higher offensive ratings on the team.

On Tuesday against the Magic, Schröder actually led the Thunder to victory thanks to 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting in the fourth. For the season, the German point guard averages 11.8 drives per game, which is 5.1 shy of his counterpart Westbrook, who is among the league’s elite in that category. Needless to say, Miami has to beware of each guy’s quick first step, especially when they’re on the floor together.

Noel, on the other hand, has protected the rim very well for Oklahoma City in his limited playing time. And with Steven Adams out versus Orlando on Tuesday, Noel made his presence felt in the starting lineup with 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting, seven boards and a season-high five blocks.

As of this writing, Adams is listed as questionable with a right ankle sprain, so we’ll see if Noel gets another opportunity to be in the first five.

3: How will Miami need to score against such a strong defense?

Couper: As strong as Oklahoma City’s defense is, they are similar to Denver in that they do allow a fairly high rate of attempts at the rim. The Thunder protect the paint, and really every zone on the floor, well enough that it doesn’t hurt them too much, but it does mean that for a team like Miami that likes to generate drives, those opportunities should be there if they execute their system with force. That being said, the Thunder are elite in the half-court and also rarely allow transition opportunities, so they aren’t going to make anything easy.

At the end of the day, the same is true against the Thunder as it true about any HEAT opponent. Miami’s offense is built, properly, around drives and generating open threes. Even when those open looks don’t fall, like against Chicago, that doesn’t mean they’re bad looks. The stronger the defense they face, the more crucial it is to increase their possession-to-possession variance with a steady diet of threes. It’s what allows their offense to occasionally be explosive even when they aren’t able to run out off misses. You won’t always shoot 40 percent, but you have to shoot the shots.

Joe: Percentage-wise, the Thunder are very good at defending every zone of the floor, but they are susceptible in a few areas. In addition to giving up a decent amount of looks at the rim like Coup mentioned above, Oklahoma City also allows the third-most right-corner threes in the league.

As such, the HEAT could have some success if their ball handlers can attack downhill with the help of Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo and either get clean looks inside or set up their teammates on the perimeter.

Easier said than done, but that’s the recipe for success.

Thunder at HEAT Head To Head

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT are 24-25, while the Thunder enter the contest at 32-18 thanks to winning six straight.
  • This is Miami’s second and final home and home set of the season, as it will face the Indiana Pacers Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
  • Paul George leads OKC in points (27.3) and steals (2.3) per game.
  • Dwyane Wade (Right Knee Soreness) is probable, while Derrick Jones Jr. (Right Knee Bone Bruises), Goran Dragić (Right Knee Surgery), Yante Maten (Sioux Falls Assignment) and Duncan Robinson (Sioux Falls Assignment) remain out.

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 106.3 (22)
  • HEAT Defense: 106.5 (6)
  • Thunder Offense: 109.5 (15)
  • Thunder Defense: 104.7 (2)