The Miami HEAT face the Orlando Magic Sunday night at Amway Center. 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 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks?
Couper Moorhead: When Giannis Antetokounmpo was on the floor, the Bucks scored 79.4 points per 100 possessions – a season low for their best player and the second time Miami has held him to a mark below 80 in the past two seasons. That’s the game right there. The HEAT scheme for Antetokounmpo was very specifically, almost selling out to make sure to keep bodies in front of him – the primary defender usually being James Johnson or Bam Adebayo – and by nature that typically allows some open looks from threes that Miami still tries to recover on and contest. So when the Bucks, who we must note played in Boston the night before and landed in Miami around 4 in the morning, shoot 9-of-43 from deep (20.0 percent), you have all the answers you need. The Bucks, as we mentioned in the preview, are much better equipped to handle Miami’s scheme this season with their new focus on high-value shots, but that didn’t matter much Saturday night at all.
Joe Beguiristain: I liked how the HEAT weathered the storm late and thwarted the Bucks’ comeback attempt in the fourth. After going up by 16 points in the final period, Miami saw its lead start to dwindle away with Milwaukee making some more outside shots. All told, the Bucks cut the deficit to just a point with 2:42 left.
But then, Dwyane Wade did Dwyane Wade things.
The 36-year-old vet took over from there and scored six of the HEAT’s final ten points, including two big jumpers off the pick-and-roll with Hassan Whiteside.
And on a night where Miami stayed true to its identity and stifled Milwaukee, it was cool to see Wade close things out.
2: What have we learned from this matchup with Orlando so far?
Couper: The same thing we’ve learned every season, which is that Orlando always seems to play Miami tough. What’s different this year is that under Steve Clifford, the Magic are playing particularly disciplined basketball, especially on the defensive end as they held Miami to a 12 point third quarter last time out to take a commanding lead. Orlando making half their threes and Terrence Ross hitting some tough shots paced their offense in that one (not to mention another good shooting night from Aaron Gordon that tends to happen randomly to the HEAT), but we should take a moment and highlight the work done by Jonathan Isaac, he of just five field-goal attempts. Isaac is still young and raw, but he’s already a big-time impact player on defense, giving everyone he’s defending problems and helping everywhere else he’s needed. Miami isn’t a team that funnels offense through any individual player, but Isaac is reaching the point that whoever he is on might not get as many touches as he normally gets.
Joe: For whatever reason, the Magic have had the HEAT’s number of late, as they’ve won three of the last five matchups between the two squads. Two of those victories came earlier this season, including a 105-90 win in their most recent meeting on Dec. 4.
And even though Miami has struggled against Orlando this year, Whiteside and Bam Adebayo have had success scoring on Nikola Vučević. In that last meeting earlier this month, Whiteside had a monster first half and didn’t miss a single shot before the break, while Adebayo showed his supreme athleticism in the fourth. That said, Vuč responded on the other end.
Besides Vučević, Evan Fournier has also been a thorn in Miami’s side. Despite the Magic’s mishaps of late (they’re coming off a 10-point loss to the Bulls), the 26-year-old Frenchman has been pretty good and is leading the team with 20 points per game over his last three.
As such, it’ll be fun to see Josh Richardson go mano e mano with Fournier on Sunday night.
3: With Orlando not having seen Miami’s zone so far, how do you see that defense interacting with their offense?
Couper: Not too differently from most teams we’ve seen so far. You would expect Miami to employ the zone when some of Orlando’s weaker shooters are on the floor, though everyone they play is a willing shooter in some capacity. Maybe Orlando, having some time to prepare for this game that recent opponents haven’t had, will have some new wrinkle for the zone, but ultimately it will come down to what it usually comes down to with that defensive scheme – can the other team move the ball well enough to get the good looks the defense afford them, and can they knock them down?
Joe: As a whole, the HEAT’s zone has worked because it gives teams a look they usually don’t prep for. And when Miami is communicating, staying active in the passing lanes and moving quickly, it can become quite difficult to break if you aren’t making your outside shots.
In terms of Sunday, I expect the HEAT to use it as much as they have in the past. And since Orlando takes a ton of mid-range jumpers (18.8 per game to be exact) and is right around league average in treys attempted per game and percentage off those looks, there’s a possibility we’ll see it a little more. But at the end of the day, how long the zone lasts is totally predicated on if the opposition is making its threes.
Time will tell.
- The HEAT have won four straight and are 15-16 on the year.
- The Magic have dropped two straight and enter the contest at 14-17.
- Josh Richardson is averaging 20.0 points, 4.7 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game over his past three outings.
- Nikola Vučević leads Orlando in points (20.5) and rebounds (12.0) per contest.
- HEAT Offense: 105.3 (25)
- HEAT Defense: 105.8 (8)
- Magic Offense: 103.9 (27)
- Magic Defense: 108.2 (15)