Portland Trail Blazers at Miami HEAT Game Preview

Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon

The Miami HEAT host the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT fell to the Trail Blazers 115-104 in their last meeting on March 19. 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 from Miami’s win over Memphis?

Couper Moorhead: Not much more than we learned from the win over Brooklyn. The Grizzlies have their own issues to sort out at this point of the season, particularly with Mike Conley out of the lineup, and teams like that generally don’t reveal many truths about a team past the first few weeks of the season. The HEAT simply defended to their identity, jamming up set plays, pressing the ball and preventing the Grizzlies from getting to easy actions. Memphis was able to keep the game close by doing some of the same, but they never scored over 20 points in a quarter after the first. And once Miami scored off a few turnovers and caught fire from three late, that was the game. That’s the HEAT’s formula, and it worked exactly as intended the past two outings.

Joe Beguiristain: We continued to see Miami impose its will and take care of business. After holding the Nets to 40.7 percent shooting on Saturday, the HEAT carried that over to Monday night and limited the Grizzlies to just 38.9 percent from the field. In particular, Dion Waiters, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Johnson were brilliant on the defensive end.

Throughout the contest, Waiters pressured Dillon Brooks, James Ennis and Chandler Parsons to the tune of four deflections, two steals and a block. Adebayo, meanwhile, made an immediate impact in the first quarter and showed quick feet on rotations and switches. As a result, he tallied two steals, two blocks, three deflections and a plus-10 rating. Johnson, on the other hand, competed hard against Tyreke Evans and fought over screens well to help hold the 28-year-old to just 5-of-17 shooting.

On the flip side of the ball, Miami got into the paint at will and had Memphis scrambling for most of the night. In all, it was good to see the HEAT dominate and close out a successful road trip.

2: How has Portland been different this season?

Couper: While the Blazers did add two big men at draft time in Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan and traded shooter Allen Crabbe to the Nets in the offseason, their most significant move of late was adding Jusuf Nurkić at center at the last trade deadline. Half a year later, Portland has been one of the best defenses in the league in part because they allow only 99.7 points per 100 possessions when Nurkić is on the floor. Now, that hasn’t held up recently as the Blazers have lost five games in a row, including a thriller against the Houston Rockets, but they’ve still played some of their best defense with Nurkić on the floor – he just happens to have missed the past two games and his availability for Wednesday is unknown as of the time this was written.

But for all the positive changes Portland has seen on the defensive end, they’ve been well below their offensive standards after finishing No. 11 on that end scoring 107.8 points per 100 possessions last year. Currently, they’re No. 22 at 103.1 per 100. Some of that might just be early season randomness as Damian Lillard has broken out of a mild slump (he was hovering just above 30 percent from three for a while) with three straight 30-point games. And everyone should remember Lillard dropping 49 in Miami last year. 

Joe: While Portland has struggled recently on the defensive end during its five-game losing streak, the team has greatly improved in that area this season. After giving up 107.8 points per 100 possessions a year ago, the Trail Blazers have bettered that number by 5.4 points.

As Coup mentioned above, a lot of that has to do with Jusuf Nurkić. That said, Evan Turner has also played pretty well on that end for Portland. In fact, he has the fourth-best defensive rating on the team (101.5) and is limiting the opposition to 6.8 percentage points less than their usual field goal percentage. With Moe Harkless hurt, Turner has started the last two games for Head Coach Terry Stotts. We’ll see if Harkless can give it a go on Wednesday or if Turner will get the nod once again.

3: How are the Blazers going to test Miami?

Couper: Even in what’s been a down offensive season, Portland is never a team to take lightly as they’ll be one of the league’s most explosive teams as long as Lillard and CJ McCollum are around. Only the Oklahoma City Thunder take more jumpers off the dribble than Portland, and only Houston and Indiana have a higher effective field-goal percentage on those shots (Portland is at 49.7 eFG). In other words, this is as prolific a pull-up team as there is, which puts a ton of pressure on guards to fight over screens and on bigs to step up and contest. Miami generally is happy to force teams to shoot in the mid-range, especially off the dribble, but against Lillard and McCollum they’ll have to be much more aggressive as bad shots for the league aren’t really bad shots for them. In other words, the HEAT will have to step out of their defensive comfort zone a bit against a pair of players that leave defenses anything but comfortable.

Joe: Although the Trail Blazers haven’t been as sharp on the offensive end as in years past, I believe they will still test the HEAT’s defense. As usual, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are the two main focal points of Portland’s offense. Lillard has continued to put pressure on defenses in the pick-and-roll (he’s averaging 1.04 points per possession as the P&R ball-handler, which places him in the 90.4 percent tile), while McCollum has done a good job of getting open off screens and pulling-up quickly from mid-range (the 26-year-old is shooting 47.1 percent from that area this season).

As such, Miami has to make sure it fights over screens and rotates quickly. The last thing you want is Lillard and McCollum getting into an early rhythm thanks to some clean looks. Like I stated before though, the HEAT have been playing well on the defensive end of late. From Waiters and TJ to Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow, Miami has enough strong perimeter defenders to get the job done.

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Highlights:

March 19 – Trail Blazers at HEAT

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won two in a row and are 13-13 on the year.
  • The Trail Blazers have dropped five straight and are also 13-13.
  • Erik Spoelstra is one win away from tying Pat Riley for the most wins in franchise history.
  • Damian Lillard leads Portland in points (26.6) and assists (6.2) per game.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 102.2 (24)
  • HEAT Defense: 104.3 (10)
  • Trail Blazers Offense: 103.1 (22)
  • Trail Blazers Defense: 102.4 (7)

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