The Miami HEAT face the Los Angeles Clippers Saturday night at Staples Center. Tip-off is set for 10:30 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 double-digit victory in Phoenix?
Couper Moorhead: It’s not the most interesting answer, but the HEAT were just solid in beating a team that they should beat. Yes, Bam Adebayo had an incredible first half with lobs and deflections and drawing fouls, Goran Dragić got back on the floor and Justise Winslow had his most efficient game of the year (20 points on eight shots), but all the results in the box score were byproducts of the team sticking to the plan on both ends even after the Suns put up a 36-point first quarter. These are the types of game you don’t want to need outlier-type performances against in order to win, so outside of the highlights it was good to see Miami just have a simple, repeatable sort of performance lead to a convincing victory. Those are the wins that build the foundation for a playoff berth.
Joe Beguiristain: Above all else, I liked Miami’s ball movement.
With Goran Dragić back in the fray on Friday night, the HEAT recorded a season-high 32 assists against the Suns and looked much more organized than they have in recent weeks. And while Phoenix is one of the worst defensive teams in the league, it was still good to see Dragić wheel and deal his way to a season-high 10 assists.
Most of those assists went to Bam Adebayo, who routinely crushed the rim and scored a career-high 22 points on 6-of-9 shooting. And when you sprinkle in Miami’s 15 treys on the night (eight of which came from Justise Winslow and Rodney McGruder), you realize just how much Dragić means to the offense.
We’ll see how the HEAT fare without the Slovenian against the Clippers.
2: How have the Clippers changed this season?
Couper: The Clippers made their big move before the trade deadline last year, trading Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons in a deal that set up the foundation for this season’s race to the top of the Western Conference, the trade brought back Tobias Harris, who is playing like an All-Star, Avery Bradley, who is as solid a role player as there is, Boban Marjanović, one of the most efficient and unique players in the league, and a draft pick which became one of the season’s most promising rookies in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Then, after losing DeAndre Jordan in free agency to Dallas, LA moved Austin Rivers to Washington for Marcin Gortat, their starting center. And now they have one of the best records in the league with a Top 5 offense and an above-average defense. So far, change has been good.
Joe: The Clippers added a few new pieces over the offseason, including rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and veterans Marcin Gortat and Mike Scott. Among them, Gilgeous-Alexander has really turned some heads with his supreme athleticism and ability to play on both ends of the floor.
After coming off the bench for the first nine games of the season, the 20-year-old Gilgeous-Alexander replaced the then-injured Avery Bradley in the starting lineup and has remained there ever since. Once Bradley came back, Gilgeous-Alexander took over Patrick Beverley’s spot in the lineup.
Not only can the former Kentucky Wildcat defend (he’s holding the opposition to just 40.4 percent shooting), but he can also get to the bucket and either finish for himself or set up his teammates. All told, he’s shooting 51.9 percent on drives, which is the highest percentage on the team among guys with high volume.
3: What is the biggest challenge against this Clippers group?
Couper: Similar to the Indiana squad that has given Miami some trouble this season, the Clippers might not have a ton of All-Star berths on their team but they are replete with players who know their roles and execute their roles. And they all do something a little bit different, from the efficient stylings of Lou Williams to the efficient shot creation of Harris, from the shift-attacking game of Gilgeous-Alexander to the all-around game of Danilo Gallinari, along with excellent energy and defensive players in Patrick Beverley and Montezl Harrell, there is an incredible depth and variety of skill on this roster. What does that mean for Miami? It means their usual depth advantages, already a little short with Dragić sitting out Saturday night and both Wayne Ellington and Hassan Whiteside not with the team, aren’t as likely as usual to come into play, and that they need to be readily aware of who is on the floor and where they are. If the Clippers are running, for example, you’re going to play Gallinari differently than you would Gilgeous-Alexander, but since so many of these players are adept at drawing fouls and getting to the line, late recognition in the open floor or in closeout situations is going to mean giving up easy points – and shorthanded as Miami is they can’t afford to be in foul trouble.
Joe: On the defensive end, Miami has to be ready for a team that likes to attack the basket rather than shoot the three-ball. In fact, the Clippers are ranked sixth in the league with 47.8 drives per game. And while Los Angeles takes a ton of shots from the restricted area (31.3 per game), the team isn’t very efficient from that zone (60.3 percent, which is fifth-worst). Despite that, the HEAT still have to make sure they stay in front of their man and are quick with their rotations so there are no breakdowns and easy buckets for the Clippers.
Offensively, Miami should have some success going to the basket since Los Angeles gives up the third-most shots in the restricted area. However, things will be tough from downtown, as the Clippers are one of the best in the league at defending the three-point line. And with Dragić out, it’ll be up to Dwyane Wade, Winslow and the rest of the HEAT’s ballhandlers to get the team quality looks.
Long story short, the Clippers are one of the better all-around teams in the league and will prove to be a good test for Miami on this challenging road trip.
- The HEAT have won two straight against the Clippers.
- Miami is 10-14 on the year, while Los Angeles is 16-8.
- The HEAT have seven players averaging 10 points or more per game.
- Tobias Harris leads the Clippers in points (21.0) and rebounds (8.5) per contest.
- HEAT Offense: 105.6 (27)
- HEAT Defense: 106.7 (9)
- Clippers Offense: 112.1 (5)
- Clippers Defense: 107.8 (14)