San Antonio Spurs at Miami HEAT Game Preview
Photo Credit: Oscar Baldizon
The Miami HEAT host the San Antonio Spurs Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT fell to the Spurs 94-90 in their last meeting on Nov. 14. 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: What did we learn about the team in their win over Atlanta?
Couper Moorhead: Not that we ever needed reminding but again we saw a team capable of hugely explosive scoring, posting 36 points in the second quarter behind Wayne Ellington’s six threes the game after a 37-point second. Yes, there will be times when the offense looks stuck in the mud as any team will have and which led to the team giving up its 21-point lead until retaking firm control, but a lot of teams that get stuck in the mud can’t post huge bursts in the same game. In other words, this is an offense with a wider range of outcomes due to their ability to get in the paint and create open threes, and teams with more possible outcomes have a great chance of competing on a night-to-night basis.
More importantly, this was Miami’s best defensive game of the very young season as they held Atlanta (without starting point guard Dennis Schroeder or Ersan Ilyasova) to an offensive efficiency of 94.0. The Hawks only managed seven fast-break points which helped keep their points-in-the-paint total to just 44. And that’s all in a game that was still relatively fast at over 100 possessions per team.
Joe Beguiristain: Simply put, we continued to see a team that knows how to respond to adversity. Despite not having Hassan Whiteside once again, the HEAT had five players score in double-figures for the second consecutive game. Talk about depth.
While Wayne Ellington caught fire in the second quarter and tied a HEAT record with six treys in the period, Josh Richardson had a brilliant two-way performance. Whether Richardson was hitting spot-up threes, aggressively attacking the basket or guarding Atlanta’s best perimeter threats, he was doing it all. Case in point: the 24-year-old led Miami with 21 points and four deflections.
Although Richardson has done well defensively, the HEAT as a whole have to be sharper with Whiteside out and the paint more susceptible. Goran Dragić spoke a little bit about that challenge after practice on Tuesday.
“Opponents are scoring too much paint points…and we want to eliminate those easy points, but at the same time, it’s tough when you don’t have Hassan on the floor,” Dragić said. “He usually changes a lot of shots. We’re just going to keep on practicing [and] get better.”
2: How have the Spurs been playing without Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker and how will their absences affect Wednesday night’s matchup?
Couper: The Spurs are still the Spurs. Yes, their offense has been a little below their usual norms without Leonard – a popular preseason pick for Most Valuable Player – but they’re still 3-0 and have the second-best defense in the league at an efficiency of 92.3 per 100 possessions. They’re playing a little slower than most of the league right now, though their pace would have been Top 5 just a few seasons ago.
One surprise so far is that Rudy Gay is making over half his shots in 22 minutes a game after suffering an Achilles injury – one of the toughest for any athlete to return from – in the second half of last season. With Leonard out, Gay gives the team both some added shot creation and another long, athletic player.
But then there’s also sophomore Dejounte Murray, starting in place of Parker, who is posting about a 13-10-5 average in three games. At 6-foot-5, Murray has great size for his position and given that Miami hasn’t seen him much in live competition he’ll be someone to keep an eye on Wednesday night.
Joe: If you just looked at the Spurs’ record and defensive metrics, you wouldn’t believe that Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker have been out all season. Thankfully, LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green and Dejounte Murray have played lights out thus far for San Antonio. Since Coup already touched on Murray and his production in his second season, I’ll highlight the veteran swingman in Green.
Not only has the 30-year-old been scoring well (he’s second on the team with 14.3 points per game on 41.2 percent shooting from downtown), but he’s also been a menace on the defensive end. In fact, Green tied a career-high with five blocks against the Raptors on Monday and did a nice job of guarding both DeMar DeRozan and Norman Powell.
Long story short, the Spurs will be a tough test for the HEAT even without Leonard and Parker. And with Gregg Popovich still at the helm, you shouldn’t expect anything less.
3: With Hassan Whiteside again out, how do you think the HEAT will try to defend San Antonio?
Couper: How Erik Spoelstra handles this will be very interesting given that San Antonio is one of the few teams left in the league that still starts two legitimate big men, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol, in their frontcourt. The HEAT have been starting Jordan Mickey and James Johnson. While you would expect Johnson to end up on Aldridge either way given Johnson’s typically excellent post defense, Gasol is still capable at 37-years old of punishing smaller players in the post. Then again, Gasol would still have to account for the spacing Mickey provides on the other end of the floor. If a change is made, we might see Kelly Olynyk back with the starters just to add a little more size, but Olynyk has been fitting in remarkably well with the bench group as both a mobile shooter and capable playmaker. We could also see Bam Adebayo get a start, again to add size, though in that case he might become more of a pick-and-roller, a role Johnson has been filling at times with that starting group.
Joe: Like I stated in my first response, Miami will definitely have to be sharper across the board defensively in order to come away victorious. Even though San Antonio is averaging just 99.8 points per 100 possessions, the duo of Aldridge and Pau Gasol will still be challenging for a smaller HEAT frontcourt.
That said, I think that Erik Spoelstra will roll with the same starting lineup and have James Johnson start at the four and Jordan Mickey at the five. Aldridge has had a great start to the season, but Johnson is certainly a stout enough defender to give the former Trail Blazer some problems. Mickey, on the other hand, definitely has the speed advantage on Gasol. We'll see if that mitigates the gap in playing experience.
Another important thing to note is that Joffrey Lauvergne is out with a sprained right ankle. That might force the Spurs to go a bit smaller at times, which should help Miami’s cause.
INJURY UPDATE: Dion Waiters (left ankle soreness) walked through Wednesday morning’s team shootaround and will be a game-time decision.
- The HEAT are 2-1, while the Spurs enter the contest at 3-0.
- Goran Dragić is averaging 19.7 points and 5.0 assists per game this season.
- LaMarcus Aldridge is leading San Antonio in scoring at 24.3 points per contest.
- Dion Waiters (left ankle soreness) is questionable, while Hassan Whiteside (left knee contusion) and Rodney McGruder (left tibia surgery) are out.
- Kawhi Leonard (right quadriceps tendinopathy), Tony Parker (left quadriceps tendon surgery) and Joffrey Lauvergne (sprained right ankle) are out.
- HEAT Offense: 103.3 (14)
- HEAT Defense: 102.6 (12)
- Spurs Offense: 99.8 (20)
- Spurs Defense: 92.3 (2)