Miami HEAT at Portland Trail Blazers Game Preview

Photo Credit: Nathaniel S. Butler

The Miami HEAT face the Portland Trail Blazers Monday night at Moda Center. The HEAT fell to the Trail Blazers 102-95 in their last meeting on Dec. 13. Tip-off is set for 10:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 10:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: What was your main takeaway from one of Miami’s most dominant victories of the past two seasons?

Couper Moorhead: The HEAT did everything they were supposed to do. With John Wall again out, they pressured Bradley Beal at every opportunity and forced others on the Wizards to make plays. With Washington on a back-to-back, they pushed as hard as they have pushed all season in transition, regularly scoring simply by outrunning their opponent. It was a total, complete, all-around effort from the HEAT, the sort of which you want to see during the run-up to the postseason. All that being said, whether it was the lack of Wall or the back-to-back or anything else, the Wizards just did not seem to have it going Saturday night – that much was clear even in the first half before Miami dropped 43 points in the third quarter. One team had all the energy, and that team won like the team that had all the energy.

Joe Beguiristain: It was a workman-like shellacking from beginning to end, as the HEAT took advantage of a Wizards team that had played the night prior. In the first half, Miami’s ball handlers routinely got into the paint and did plenty of damage off the dribble to keep Washington on its heels. As such, the HEAT scored 42 points in the paint through the first two quarters, which is a shade under their season average for an entire game.

While Miami continued to attack the basket in the second half (the team finished with a season-high 76 paint points), Wayne Ellington and Rodney McGruder caught fire from deep after halftime and put the HEAT up by as many as 38 points in the fourth.  

On the flip side of the ball, Miami bottled up Bradley Beal often and forced the Wizards to shoot just 42.4 percent through three quarters.

In other words, it was one of the HEAT’s most complete performances of the season.

2: What is going so well for Portland that they’ve won nine games in a row?

Couper: It will surprise nobody to know that Portland has been scoring as efficiently as ever over the past nine games, posting 110.7 points per 100 possessions. What’s been different for them, different for them the entire season, is that they’re allowing just 99.2 points per 100 during that same stretch – their defense is in the Top 10 for the season – a stretch that includes wins over the Jazz, Timberwolves, Thunder and two wins over the Warriors.  The main difference might just be Jusuf Nurkić, acquired before the trade deadline last season, with whom the Blazers are defending at an elite rate while he’s on the floor. Otherwise, Portland has a deep roster full of perimeter defenders around their primary scorers and a fairly conservative scheme that has them forcing the second-most mid-range shots in the league and among the fewest corner threes.

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are still the primary options – Lillard is averaging 32.6 points over the last nine – but it’s the defense, plus a very strong shooting season from the pair of Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless, that has them No. 3 in the Western Conference.

C.J. McCollum & Damian LillardJoe: Few teams are as hot as the Trail Blazers are right now, as they’ve tallied a 10.9 net rating over their past nine games.

As Coup mentioned above, Portland’s commitment to the defensive end has really propelled the team of late. In addition to Jusuf Nurkić, Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu and even C.J. McCollum have gotten the job done defensively.

Of course, McCollum and Damian Lillard have also continued to make life miserable for the opposition when the ball is in their hands. While McCollum has shown incredible quickness of the dribble to either get to the basket or pull up from the perimeter, Lillard has been even better. In fact, Dame has averaged 1.05 points per possession as the pick-and-roll ballhandler, which ranks him among the league’s elite.

When you put it all together, it becomes clear why the Trail Blazers have been on an absolute tear recently.

3: How were the Blazers able to pull out a victory on their visit to Miami earlier this season?

Couper: That game, back in mid-December before Dion Waiters went down with his injury, feels a bit like ancient history at this point. Nurkić was out for Portland so they started Zach Collins, who is playing better of late, and Evan Turner was in the starting lineup. Now, Nurkić is back and Harkless starts, allowing Turner to run some bench offense alongside former Heat draft pick Shabazz Napier.

What this game ultimately was about was Portland finding a way to hang around long enough, largely thanks to Aminu shooting 5-of-8 from deep, until their scorers could take over late. Neither McCollum nor Lillard were having particularly good games against Miami’s pressuring guards, but when things came down to it they made big plays down the stretch as Miami scored just 16 points in the fourth quarter. 

Just as Miami just faced a Wizards team on a back-to-back a few days after playing in Washington on zero rest themselves, the Blazers traveled cross-country to Miami right after playing the Warriors in California. Now Miami has to travel from Florida to Oregon for this side of the matchup. All’s fair in travel and rest, it seems.

Joe: Even though the HEAT fell short in that last matchup, they actually did a solid job against the dynamic backcourt duo of Lillard and McCollum.  In particular, Lillard shot just 5-of-14 on the night thanks to some solid defense from both Josh Richardson and Dion Waiters.

That said, the 27-year-old Lillard was able to get some breathing room in the fourth and helped turn a nine-point deficit entering the period into a seven-point victory.

Also of note in the final quarter was Portland’s defense, which kept Miami in check and enabled the comeback. As Coup and I mentioned previously, the Trail Blazers have become even better on that end of late.

In all, the HEAT will definitely have their hands full with a Portland team surging much like they are.

This should be a fun one.

HEAT at Trail Blazers Head to Head

Highlights:

Dec. 13 – Trail Blazers at HEAT

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won six of eight and are 36-31 on the year.
  • The Trail Blazers have won 11 of 12 and enter the contest at 40-26.
  • Miami has scored 111.3 points per 100 possessions over its past 11 games.
  • Damian Lillard leads Portland in points (26.8) and assists (6.5) per game.
  • Dwyane Wade (mild left hamstring strain) and Hassan Whiteside (left hip pain) are out.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 104.3 (20)
  • HEAT Defense: 104.2 (9)
  • Trail Blazers Offense: 105.9 (15)
  • Trail Blazers Defense: 104.1 (7)

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