The Miami HEAT face the Los Angeles Lakers Monday 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 take away from Miami’s dominant fourth quarter against the Clippers?
Couper Moorhead: It was one of the more surprising blowout quarters, particularly for a road team, in recent memory. Despite barely being able to hit a shot from outside for most of the evening the Clippers’ offense was still humming along well enough to suggest that this was going to be another close game down the stretch. Instead, after a couple of odd sequences and the ejection of Clippers coach Doc Rivers early in the quarter, their offense just unraveled against a HEAT team playing twice as much zone defense as they had in the entire season leading up to this game. It was the ultimate snowball effect, with Miami playing the game we’ve seen them play a dozen times over when they are shorthanded – they play together, they defend and they find ways to keep themselves in games no matter who is on the floor. It was an exceedingly impressive showing on Miami’s part, one of their better victories of the past few seasons, but the circumstances in which they won were a little strange at the same time.
Joe Beguiristain: The HEAT just found a way, didn’t they?
Over the past few seasons, this particular group has shown that no obstacle is too big to overcome, and Saturday night was just another example of that. With only eight players available once Tyler Johnson went down with a left hip contusion in the first quarter, Miami defied the odds against one of the better teams in the league. And while Justise Winslow and Dwyane Wade really stood out (more on Winslow later), the HEAT wouldn’t have won without Kelly Olynyk’s double-double and stout defense (he drew two offensive fouls and contested 15 shots) and Derrick Jones Jr.’s career-high 11 rebounds.
KO didn’t play much in that fourth quarter, but Jones Jr. played the entire period and out-hustled the Clippers with four offensive boards in the period. Additionally, Jones Jr., Winslow and Bam Adebayo all executed Miami’s zone defense well and helped hold Los Angeles to just eight points on 2-of-15 shooting in the final quarter.
2: How can Miami prevent LeBron James from having a monster scoring game like he did when these teams met in Florida?
Couper: If James is going to shoot 6-of-8 from three, including some tough, tough stepback shots, there really isn’t much you can do. When James’ shot is on like that, he effectively breaks the fabric of the game. The best you can do is continue to contest the shots as best you can, continue to help your teammates whenever he puts the ball on the floor (without allowing easy passing lanes to shooters) and do your best not to turn the ball over so James doesn’t get a full head of steam in the open court. Unfortunately the HEAT did all of those things relatively well last time out and James still scored 51 points, and the truth is he might have scored 51 points not matter who he was playing that night. That’s why he is one of the best to ever play the game.
Odds are James isn’t going to shoot quite as well Monday night, and as long as that happens and the HEAT play with the same energy they did against the Clippers, they’ll have themselves in good shape.
Joe: As Coup mentioned above, not many teams could have stopped LeBron James in that last meeting given how hot he was from the perimeter. When he’s cooking like that, there really isn’t much you can do outside of sending a double team his way and making sure your rotations are quick once he gets the ball out. But at the end of the day, he’s one of the best players to ever play the game for a reason. Even when you think you’ve taken away a part of his game, he’ll keep coming back and wear you down or beat you in another way. That’s just the nature of the beast.
Over the Lakers’ recent 5-1 stretch, James is averaging 30.8 points and 7.5 assists per game, which are more than his season averages. And while two of those victories were against strong defensive teams in the Pacers and Grizzlies, the HEAT have started to get going on that end and own the eighth-best defensive rating at 106.1.
We’ll see how it all plays out.
3: What have you liked the most about the play of Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo over the past two games?
Couper: Their defense. Over the past two games Winslow and Adebayo are allowing just 79.5 points per 100 possessions when they share the court together. Yes, that includes time against a Phoenix team lacking their two best scorers and a Clippers team that for some reason couldn’t shoot, but this isn’t just a two-game thing – they’re allowing 92.7 points per 100 possessions, a number that would lead the league, in 292 total minutes this season. Teams won’t continue to shoot so poorly (26 percent from three) against this look, but the lack of easy looks for opponents can continue as long as these two continue to hound passing lanes, annoy ballhandlers and get deflections all over the place. The offense will probably be up and down night-to-night, though replete with enjoyable highlights, but as long as the defense is there, and it has almost always been there, this pair has every indication of being added value.
Joe: Since Coup talked about their defense, I’ll get into their offense.
Thus far on Miami’s road trip, the team is scoring 117.2 points per 100 possessions in 42 minutes with Winslow and Adebayo on the floor. That really shouldn’t be much of a surprise though given Winslow’s superb playmaking ability and Adebayo’s penchant for setting good screens and rolling to the rim with force.
In fact, the second-year big out of Kentucky has tallied a team-high nine screen assists for 21 points over the past two contests. Of course, he also destroyed the rim on Friday against the Suns and scored a career-high 22 points.
Winslow, meanwhile, has shown dramatic improvement at the rim; so much so that he’s made all seven shots he’s taken from the restricted area over the past two games. And once you factor in his career-high nine assists against the Clippers on Saturday, you realize why he’s been so vital to the HEAT’s recent success.
INJURY UPDATE: Goran Dragić (Right Knee Injury) and Wayne Ellington (Personal Reasons) will play. Tyler Johnson (Left Hip Contusion) and Josh Richardson (Right Shoulder Impingement) are probable. Dion Waiters (Left Ankle Surgery), Hassan Whiteside (Personal Reasons), Duncan Robinson (Sioux Falls Assignment) and Yante Maten (Sioux Falls Assignment) remain out.
- The HEAT fell to the Lakers 113-97 in their last meeting on Nov. 18.
- Miami has won four of five and is 11-14, while Los Angeles has won five of six and is 16-10 on the year.
- Justise Winslow is averaging a team-high 18.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game on 54.1 percent shooting over the past three outings.
- LeBron James leads the Lakers in points (28.3), rebounds (7.7), assists (6.9) and steals (1.3) per game.
- HEAT Offense: 106.0 (26)
- HEAT Defense: 106.1 (8)
- Lakers Offense: 108.6 (15)
- Lakers Defense: 106.3 (9)