The Miami HEAT face the Atlanta Hawks Sunday night at State Farm Arena. Tip-off is set for 6:00 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What did you like most about Miami’s hold-them-off victory over the Washington Wizards?
Couper Moorhead: Mostly that just about everyone had a solid evening. Beat up as the Wizards were, they came ready to play and it was clear in the first half that Miami wasn’t getting off with an easy, forgettable win. This one they had to earn with Bradley Beal (33 points) coming full speed ahead. But after Hassan Whiteside set the tone early – you would be hard pressed to find him ever having a bad game against the Wizards – the HEAT came together for 62 points in the paint, regularly driving and cutting and getting the Washington defense off-balance. Both teams left some points on the court missing open threes, but it was the HEAT that were more aggressive throughout the evening as they constantly had the Wizards playing catch-up.
Joe Beguiristain: I liked how the HEAT responded to adversity late in the contest.
After going up by 10 points with 7:02 left in the fourth, Miami saw its lead slowly slip away thanks to Bradley Beal. And while the 25-year-old former Gator mixed things up and cut the deficit to one with 1:07 to play, the HEAT weren’t fazed.
On the next possession, Justise Winslow, who continued to thrive at point guard and dished out a career-high 10 assists, responded with the biggest bucket of the night when Miami needed it the most. From there, the HEAT closed things out with strong defense and a couple clutch free throws by Dwyane Wade.
After the game, Erik Spoelstra talked about the progress his team has made.
“I saw some growth in our team. This is a game, possibly, in the first few weeks of the season that we may have dropped and not have been able to manage [the Wizards’ speed, quickness and pace] in the second half and then find a way to get a double-digit lead and then take it to a win.”
2: How has Atlanta managed to beat Miami twice so far this season?
Couper: You’ll probably hear plenty Sunday night about how fast Atlanta plays and how they’ve managed to speed the HEAT up, and for good reason. Both matchups so far have been played at over 100 possessions – Miami has preferred to play closer to 95 possessions over the past month or so – and relatedly the HEAT have posted 17 or more turnovers in each of those games. If you’ve been following along, you know that turnover totals that high, at whatever pace, is never going to be part of Miami’s formula for success. Fortunately, most of the issues present in those games have been cleaned up over the past few weeks, and like we said before the Wizards game, the HEAT have changed enough about how they’re playing lately that it’s fair to see every game as something of a fresh matchup.
Joe: With their pace and ability to score off turnovers.
Not only are the Hawks the fastest team in the league at 105.70 possessions per game, but they’re also among the league’s elite in forcing turnovers (16.3) and scoring points off those miscues (18.4). And although we’ve seen that up close and personal in the previous two matchups between these two squads, the HEAT have taken much better care of the ball recently and are averaging 13.7 turnovers per game since they last saw Atlanta in late November. This, after turning it over 16.1 times per game from Oct. 17 through Nov. 27.
Thanks to Miami’s improvement in that area, it has won 12 of its last 17 and has scored 109.3 points per 100 possessions during that span.
3: How important are the absences of Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince Sunday night?
Couper: The reason those two are important is because despite their record, the Hawks have long been deep with wings and otherwise capable players. Yes, they might have lost to the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday by 32 (without Bazemore and Prince) but when they’re healthy they usually aren’t giving up a ton of advantageous matchups to their opponents. So, getting to what we’ve discussed before about Miami sometimes struggling with teams that can in some ways match them depth for depth, taking away some of Atlanta’s strong suit can only serve to highlight their weaknesses on both ends of the floor. While the HEAT are still down, and have often been down, important players, they are a veteran enough group that they tend to come together and find new ways to win. With this young Hawks core so early in its developmental stage, they’re still figuring out that process.
Joe: With the Hawks struggling mightily on both ends of the floor this season, not having Bazemore and Prince is really tough to overcome. That’s evident based on how Atlanta has fared with both guys out over the past three games, as the team has been outscored by 18.4 points per 100 possessions during that span. To be fair, two of those losses came against strong teams in the Bucks and Pacers, but that net rating can’t be ignored.
In Bazemore and Prince’s stead, both Kevin Huerter and DeAndre’ Bembry have taken advantage of some more playing time. Huerter, a rookie out of Maryland, has averaged 12.2 points and 3.0 assists per game over his last five, while Bembry is coming off a career night against Milwaukee on Friday.
- The Hawks have won both games against the HEAT this season.
- Miami has won eight of ten and is 19-18, while Atlanta has dropped three straight and is 11-27 on the year.
- Hassan Whiteside leads the HEAT in rebounds (13.0) and blocks (2.5) per contest.
- John Collins leads the Hawks in points (18.5) and rebounds (10.2) per game.
- HEAT Offense: 107.1 (22)
- HEAT Defense: 105.7 (7)
- Hawks Offense: 103.3 (29)
- Hawks Defense: 111.6 (25)