The Golden State Warriors travel to Florida to face the Miami Heat, live on Sky Sports Arena, aiming to extend their lead in the Western Conference.
Live NBA: Golden State @ Miami
The Warriors (43-17) currently own the best record in the Western Conference, but they’ve played below expectations this season. In fact, they’ve already reached their projected loss total from the beginning of the season – and there are still 22 games remaining.
With that said, the Warriors’ offense remains formidable. They currently rank first in points scored, assists and offensive efficiency – something that has become commonplace for them over the last five seasons of dominance.
DeMarcus Cousins playing a season-high 31 minutes in the Warriors’ most recent win is extremely encouraging too, as he’s almost back to full fitness following last season’s Achilles tear. His presence adds yet another option for Golden State as they bid for their third straight NBA title.
The Heat (26-33) come into this matchup having lost nine of their last 11 games and they are steadily falling out of playoff contention. They’ve dropped to 10th in the East and are now one-and-a-half games down on the Charlotte Hornets in eighth.
A blowout defeat to Detroit Pistons at the American Airlines Arena was followed by another defeat on their home floor to Phoenix Suns, the league’s worst team.
The Heat will hope getting Goran Dragic back from injury will spark the team. The veteran guard has come off the bench in his first two games since returning from knee surgery. If he can return to his All-Star form from last season, Miami have a real chance of arresting their slide and reviving their playoff hopes.
The first meeting between these teams was a tight one, with Golden State prevailing 120-118 on February 10. That marked the Warriors’ eighth win in their last 10 games against the Heat.
Key Battle – DeMarcus Cousins vs Hassan Whiteside
The Warriors are still trying to find a fit with their five All-Star line-up as Cousins builds up his minutes and searches for a consistent rhythm. No doubt he will add an extra dimension to their rapid-fire offense but Hassan Whiteside will be a formidable opponent for him.
Whiteside is a double-double machine and, when dialled in, can provide matchup problems for most centers in the league.
His offensive repertoire is limited but effective and he averages 2.1 blocks in around 25 minutes per game which shows how he is an irritant on the defensive end.
Cousins will need to execute cleanly if he is to get the better of Whiteside and it should prove a fascinating battle, as the Warriors’ newest superstar continues his assimilation into the champions’ schemes.
Last time out
29.6 – The number of assists the Warriors average in each game. It ranks first in the league and demonstrates how comfortable they are playing their trademark style. Even as the league as a whole has changed towards small-ball line-ups and adapted to their style, the Warriors are still imposing themselves and have more success sharing the ball than anyone else.
106.2 – The number of points opponents tend to score against the Heat. It ranks first in the league and their opponent field goal percentage of 38.7% also ranks first in the league, as per basketball reference. Those are both stats that prove you will have to work hard for what you get against Erik Spoelstra’s well-drilled defense.
49% – The percentage of Warriors shots which have found the bucket this season. The team has the best field goal percentage in the league and makes almost half their shots. Even in a league which now seems to suit a more offensive style of play, and where those attacking the basket tend to get the benefit of the doubt, that is a very impressive statistic.
One to watch (Warriors) – Stephen Curry
Even with an outrageously talented scorer like Kevin Durant on the team, Curry is still the heartbeat of the Warriors. Earlier in the campaign, he looked on course to potentially become the first player post a 50-50-90 stat line across the season (field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free throw percentage) and although his shooting has tailed off a little, he can still get hot in an instant and splash it home with regularity from just about anywhere on the court.
He also leads his team with an average of 28.4 points per game. If Curry plays well, the Warriors play well so the Heat will need to watch out.
One to watch (Heat) – Josh Richardson
Talented wing player Josh Richardson has definitely played above his 2015 draft selection, when he was taken 40th in the draft. He leads Miami in scoring this season with 17.4 points per game, a big jump from just under 13 points per game last year, and is also posting career-highs in assists (4.0) and rebounds (3.6), as per NBA.com, without a massive spike in minutes.
He’s also decent on the defensive end and has become a vital two-way cog in the Miami machine. As Dragic works back to full fitness, the reliance on Richardson to contribute at both ends is considerable for Miami.