Houston Rockets at Miami HEAT Game Preview

Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon

The Miami HEAT host the Houston Rockets Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT fell to the Rockets 99-90 in their last meeting on Jan. 22. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: What did we learn, if anything, from the loss to Orlando?

Couper Moorhead: The same lesson that’s been true for the last month, whether the team was winning or losing. When you play games that come down to just a few possessions – 18 of Miami’s last 19 games have been within five points in the final five minutes – then those few possessions, just by sheer random occurrence and variance on shots, are often just as liable to go against you as they are for you.

Here’s a thought experiment worth your time. Say a couple of possessions in early January had gone differently and Miami lost those nail-biters to Utah and Toronto, making their seven-game winning streak a 5-2 stretch. Then, in exchange, say another couple of possessions flipped and Miami beat Cleveland and Orlando this past week, making their four-game losing streak a 2-2 stretch. Record would be the same, almost all relevant stats would be the same, you’re just redistributing a few shots and therefore a few wins. Does that change anything in your mind?

Joe Beguiristain: We didn’t learn much, but we continued to see the HEAT fight hard down the stretch and do all they can to try and come out ahead. After falling behind by 14 points in the fourth quarter, Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo led the charge in Miami’s comeback bid. While Richardson did his usual damage and attacked off the dribble, Adebayo really turned heads late.

Naturally, the rookie’s massive slam over Marreese Speights in transition garnered the most attention, but his defense was quite good at times. In addition to forcing Speights into some tough outside shots, Adebayo also came through with a remarkable chase-down block on D.J. Augustin and a clutch swat against Evan Fournier with the Frenchman trying to seal the deal. Although there were some mix-ups on defensive rotations, that should get better with more reps and experience.

In other words, there’s a lot to like about the 20-year-old Adebayo. 

2: What did we learn from the previous matchup with Houston?

Couper: That Houston is every bit as good as their 38-13 record would indicate, and also that Miami can compete with them even when things aren’t going perfectly. The HEAT, missing Goran Dragić, shot just 23 percent from deep last time against the Rockets, with Houston shooting 40, but managed to keep the game close until the final minutes by playing the game at a pace that would be the slowest in the league and hammering Houston in the paint behind 22 points from Hassan Whiteside. And like so many recent games, the HEAT had the opportunity to win in the last few minutes but this time both James Harden and Chris Paul came with huge shots to put the game away.

Now, Harden probably won’t shoot 10-of-26 again but the Rockets will be playing on a back-to-back, with a three-plus hour flight from Brooklyn to Miami, so there’s every opportunity Wednesday night to manage the game with a slow pace again and see if things go back in the HEAT’s direction this time. Miami’s shooting, to be sure, will positively regress eventually after a team-wide slump the past week or so.

Chris Paul, James HardenJoe: We learned that you can’t hold the Rockets down for too long. Even though Miami held Houston to just 41 percent shooting through three quarters, James Harden and Chris Paul flipped the script in the fourth and combined for 13 points in the period to give their team a narrow victory.

That said, the HEAT still held the Rockets to their lowest shot quality of the season (expected effective field goal percentage of 50.7), which shows just how tough Miami is to beat when the team is firing on all cylinders defensively. While Hassan Whiteside and Adebayo protected the rim quite well, Richardson, Justise Winslow and Derrick Jones Jr. competed hard on the perimeter against Harden, Paul and Eric Gordon.

Simply put, it’ll take that kind of collective effort once again for the HEAT to come out ahead this time around. Not only do Harden and Paul put so much pressure on the defense with their ability to make something out of nothing themselves, but they also have a multitude of great shooters ready to rock. As such, Houston is the No. 2 offense in the league behind only Golden State.  

3: If Kelly Olynyk cannot play Wednesday night, how do you expect Miami’s lineups to change?

Couper: An Olynyk injury is an interesting predicament for Erik Spoelstra because his versatility, on the perimeter and with the ball in his hands, has been such an important part of boosting Miami’s offense. Without him, the HEAT have Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo who, while both have been very effective this season, share some duplication of skillsets. In that sense it would be easy to keep things traditional with Adebayo backing up Whiteside, which means the starting lineup would turn into a multi-guard look as either Justise Winslow or James Johnson slides back into the starting power forward role. That look, for Wednesday night, would probably be the most likely but Spoelstra did talk up pairing Adebayo and Whiteside together at times, possibly in the second unit. Against one of the best floor-spacing teams in the league that would be a fascinating look, but with Adebayo’s ability to defend on the perimeter (against someone like Ryan Anderson) it’s more feasible, defensively, than it might initially seem. 

Joe: Things will certainly be tough if Kelly Olynyk can’t play Wednesday night since the 7-footer does so much for the offense. In his stead, I think Erik Spoelstra will roll with James Johnson at the four. Although the Goran Dragić-Richardson-Winslow-J. Johnson-Whiteside lineup has only played 15 minutes this season, it has produced a 26.1 net rating.

Alternatively, Coach Spo could start Tyler Johnson (a role in which the combo guard fared quite well in before his five-game absence in mid-January), shift Richardson and Winslow to the three and four, respectively, and have JJ come off the bench.

Regardless of the starting lineups, we could also see some Bamside minutes at some point in the game.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

INJURY UPDATES: Olynyk (left shoulder strain) is listed as doubtful, while Wayne Ellington (right shoulder strain) and Winslow (illness) are listed as questionable.

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Highlights: 

Jan. 22 – HEAT at Rockets

Feb. 15 – HEAT at Rockets

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT are 29-25 on the year.
  • The Rockets have won 12 of 14 and enter the contest at 39-13.
  • Josh Richardson leads Miami with 1.3 steals per game.
  • James Harden leads Houston in points (31.3), assists (9.0) and steals (1.8) per game.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 103.0 (25)
  • HEAT Defense: 104.3 (7)
  • Rockets Offense: 112.8 (2)
  • Rockets Defense: 104.8 (10)