Miami HEAT at Houston Rockets Game Preview

Photo Credit: Bill Baptist

The Miami HEAT face the Houston Rockets Monday night at Toyota Center. The HEAT defeated the Rockets 117-109 in their last meeting on Feb. 15. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: How were the HEAT able to pull out an improbable victory in Charlotte?

Couper Moorhead: Guile, gumption and a little bit of luck. Playing on the second night of a back-to-back the HEAT were looking flat as they trailed by ten going into the fourth quarter. With how well Charlotte’s offense was going, the game was on the verge of being over early. Then Kelly Olynyk comes out with three triples in the final period to keep Miami hanging around, Wayne Ellington adds perfect 3-of-3 from three shooting over the same stretch and the HEAT found a way to be within five points in the final minute despite clearly not being at their best.

Once you’re within striking distance, you just need a few things to go your way, both due to luck that happens and luck you create. They perfectly executed an out-of-bounds play to get James Johnson a quick dunk, leaving enough time on the clock so they wouldn’t have to foul, then had the presence of mind to immediately press and Josh Richardson turns the opportunity into a steal. Then the Hornets lose track of Johnson, he hits an open three, Kemba Walker misses a well-defended shot on the next possession and Olynyk gets fouled going full court with 0.2 seconds left on the clock. For all those things to play out that way takes a good amount of good fortunate, but when you’re playing hard and smart you put yourself in position to capitalize such a sequence of events. It was not a final minute anyone will soon forget.

Joe Beguiristain: Sheer will and determination….and, as Coup stated above, some luck too. By now you should know all about James Johnson’s remarkable five-point sequence in less than five seconds that tied the game at 105, but let’s not forget about Josh Richardson.

Richardson not only came up with the steal on Nicolas Batum that set up Johnson’s last three, but he also guarded Kemba Walker extremely well throughout the contest. In fact, he forced Walker into a miss with seven seconds left that resulted in Kelly Olynyk getting fouled on the other end and hitting the game-winning free throw. When it was all said and done, Richardson helped hold Walker to an inefficient 22 points on 10-of-25 shooting.

Of course, the HEAT wouldn’t have won without Olynyk’s latest fourth-quarter eruption (the 7-footer scored 14 of his 16 points in the final period to get Miami back in it) or Wayne Ellington’s continued barrage from deep despite being covered by the Hornets’ best perimeter defender in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Ellington led the HEAT with 26 points and six made treys).

Long story short, it was one of the most miraculous comebacks in recent memory. 

2: How is Houston’s season going since adding Chris Paul during the offseason?

Couper: Well, let’s see. After adding Paul and filling out the rest of their rotation with solid role players, the Rockets have the third-most wins in the league, the second-best offense, the No. 12 defense (just below Miami) and when Paul plays – he missed some time with a knee injury – the Rockets are 22-5. So, yeah, their season is going pretty well.

By now you know what’s so unique about Houston, but they’re a little more dynamic this year than in the past thanks to Paul’s ability to compliment James Harden as a high-usage playmaker and the additions of players like Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker helping to create a more consistent and versatile defensive unit. This is, without a doubt, one of the best teams in the league.

Joe: Since James Harden played so well at point guard last season, you would think that there would have been a little adjustment period with Chris Paul in the fray.

Well, that wasn’t needed.

As Coup stated above, the addition of Paul has been a success thus far. While Harden and Paul have played pretty well together (6.7 net rating in 404 minutes on the floor), Head Coach Mike D'Antoni has also opted to stagger the two quite often. That strategy gives the opposition no breathing room whatsoever since Houston can attack with two of the best playmakers in the game at pretty much any point.

One guy in particular who has really thrived from Harden and Paul is Clint Capela. The 23-year-old has had a breakout season and is averaging career highs across the board. He’s also been fantastic in the pick-and-roll, as he’s averaging 1.34 points per possession as the roll man. 

As you can see, the Rockets are a very dangerous team.

3: Are the HEAT going to have to change anything they do defensively to combat such an elite offense?

Couper: Nobody takes more threes, by far, than the Rockets at 43.3 attempts per game. Only the Brooklyn Nets allow fewer threes than the HEAT at 25.5 per game. In other words, Miami already puts a premium on putting pressure on the three-point line so defending Houston is something they’re already geared to do. What’s so difficult about the Rockets is that they have players capable of putting the ball on the floor at the same time, so when they stretch you out with four or five shooters on the court they lengthen your closeouts and put you in dangerous situations.

To answer the question, Miami won’t have to change so much as they’ll have to do what they do as well as they’ve done it all season. What will be interesting to see – it’s unclear as of this writing whether or not Tyler Johnson and Goran Dragić will be available – is who gets what defensive assignments as both Paul and Harden would typically be drawn by Josh Richardson. It could be a big night for Justise Winslow spending time on Harden.

Joe: It’s all about threes and layups for Houston and, luckily enough, the HEAT are one of the better teams in the league at limiting those two shots. As such, Miami just has to stay true to its defensive principles and remain disciplined in its approach. Obviously that’s easier said than done when you have the second-best offense in the league coming at you, but the HEAT have responded to precarious situations before.

Although Miami’s defensive stalwarts on the perimeter (Richardson, Justise Winslow and James Johnson) will definitely be put to the test on Monday night, they likely wouldn’t want it any other way. 

INJURY UPDATE: Goran Dragić (left knee bruise) and Tyler Johnson (left ankle sprain) are listed as out.

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Highlights:

Feb. 15 – HEAT at Rockets

Jan. 17 – Rockets at HEAT

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won nine of eleven and are 27-19 on the year.
  • The Rockets have won five of six and enter the contest at 32-12.
  • Wayne Ellington has hit six or more threes in a game eight times this season.
  • James Harden leads Houston in scoring at 31.5 points per game.
  • Goran Dragić (left knee bruise) and Tyler Johnson (left ankle sprain) are listed as questionable.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 103.7 (23)
  • HEAT Defense: 104.8 (11)
  • Rockets Offense: 112.5 (2)
  • Rockets Defense: 105.0 (12)

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