Miami HEAT at Los Angeles Clippers Game Preview

The Miami HEAT face the Los Angeles Clippers Sunday afternoon at STAPLES Center. The HEAT fell to the Clippers 98-86 in their last meeting on Jan. 8. Tip-off is set for 3:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 3:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: What did you take away from Miami’s one-point loss to the Denver Nuggets?

Couper Moorhead: This was certainly a true game of runs that ended with Denver making the last final burst of the evening, but there’s two things we can address specifically here.

First, the final play with Miami down one and 11 seconds left on the clock. There’s always going to be some hand wringing when the last shot doesn’t fall, but it’s important to note that even though the ball doesn’t get right to the rim that doesn’t mean the play wasn’t designed to do so. In fact for the last five or six months of regular season play, going into last year, Miami has been remarkably good at getting into the paint in the final minutes of close games. That Dion Waiters lost his dribble and then had to reset with about five seconds left doesn’t mean he wasn’t trying to attack, with Erik Spoelstra saying as much after the game. Just remember what the offense looked down the stretch against Minnesota, or even the play before in Denver when Waiters got to the rim. Miami is always setting up a spaced floor to try and create a driving lane, whether they use a pick-and-roll or rely on the blowby and/or bully drive ability of Waiters, Dragić and James Johnson. Give credit to Will Barton, too, for staying in front of the ball in a tough spot.

Second, Miami shooting 10-of-20 from three in the first half was a nice example of water finding its level after the deep shots had some trouble falling through the season’s first two weeks. But then again, so was Miami shooting 5-of-18 from three in the second half. You’re never going to stay as hot or as cold as you are when the scales tilt to their extremes. Keep getting open looks and in the end you’ll end up somewhere very reasonable, like 39.5 percent from deep for the game as the HEAT were in Denver.

Joe Beguiristain: It was a tale of two halves for Miami, as the team looked very sharp early on. Through the first two quarters, the HEAT did whatever they wanted on the offensive end and moved the ball supremely well (15 assists on 24 made field goals). In turn, Miami got some great looks from the perimeter and finally started to knock them down (the team shot 10-of-20 from downtown in the first half).

While all that dissipated in the third quarter with the Nuggets revving up the defensive pressure, the HEAT fought back as usual and had a chance to win the game in the end. That kind of grit and fight is what we’ve come to expect from this Miami team, especially Dion Waiters. After a slow start on Friday, the 25-year-old scored seven points in the fourth and nearly won the game at the buzzer.

If the HEAT can minimize their turnovers and play more like they did in the first half and fourth quarter moving forward, things will start to take care of themselves in the win column. 

2: How do the Clippers look different this year and how do those changes affect the nature of this matchup?

Couper: The Clippers went into the offseason with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick all impending free agents. But before free agency even kicked in on July 1 Paul was traded to the Houston Rockets for a package that included defensive stalwart Patrick Beverley (now the starting point guard). Then Redick signed with the Philadelphia 76ers and it was Griffin who wound up returning as Danilo Gallinari also signed in free agency after years spent with the Denver Nuggets.

So far the changes are working out splendidly as the Clippers are 5-3 with ratings as a Top 3 offense, Top 11 defense and No. 4 overall behind the Celtics, Warriors and Thunder. Even with Griffin starting the season remarkably well, even shooting well above 40 percent from three on the number of attempts you usually see from pure spot-up shooters, the team isn’t more about him than it was last year as both his usage and assist rates are right about where they’ve been in previous years. He does play de-facto point-guard at times, meaning more full court defense will be necessary from Okaro White (who started against Denver), James Johnson and Justise Winslow, but whoever isn’t on him will have to deal with Gallinari’s size and a bevy of capable shooters spreading the floor. Griffin might be the centerpiece these days after years of Paul controlling the game, but this isn’t a one-man show.

Joe: While it was uncertain how the Clippers would fare without Chris Paul running the show, they haven’t missed a beat. As Coup stated above, Los Angeles has a top-tier offense and defense thus far in the early stages of this season. Of course, when you have sharp two-way players such as Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Patrick Beverley, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. In particular, Griffin has done a nice job of initiating offense and defending with purpose. He’s also shown an improved stroke from downtown (42.5 percent on five attempts per game).  

What’s more, newcomer Danilo Gallinari has fit in pretty well in the starting lineup and stalwart Austin Rivers has filled in nicely for the injured Miloš Teodosić. Gallinari is averaging 14.3 points, 4.7 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game on 48.6 percent shooting in his last three contests, while Rivers has averaged 13.8 points per game on 50 percent shooting from deep since becoming a starter on Oct. 24. No matter where you look, this Clippers team has plenty of weapons.

3: What are some small steps Miami can take to reduce their number of turnovers?

Couper: While Miami currently has the eighth-highest turnover percentage in the league, with 16.2 percent of their possessions ending in a turnover so far, it’s important to remember that not all turnovers are made the same. Sometimes, turnovers represent the aggressive nature of an offense that is trying to capitalize on ball and body movement – part of the reason why the Warriors go through bouts of high turnover totals each season. Golden State and Cleveland are both in the Bottom 10 as far as turnover percentage goes right now as well. Of course there are some more careless turnovers that need to be cleaned up, especially the traveling violations that are clearly a point of emphasis around the league right now, but there’s no switch you flip to make them all go away. You just stay focused on taking care of the ball while at the same time accepting that sometimes mistakes happen as part of good offensive process. The last thing you want is players who are afraid to make mistakes.

All that said, there should also be attention paid to the fact that teams are making it tougher for Miami to get to some of their usual actions. Opposing defenses are sitting in the drive-and-kick passing lanes a little more as they try to limit spot-up shots, and even some of the cutting lanes – good example would be the backdoor cuts the HEAT like to make when teams overplay a looming handoff – are getting jammed up. That comes with the league becoming more familiar with your personnel and it means being that much more precise. All teams get to a point where the opposition knows what they want to run. The teams that succeed after that point are those that can run their stuff smoothly despite that. 

Joe: First and foremost, the HEAT just have to keep an eye out for how the defense is playing them. Opposing teams are making the screen handoffs and drive-and-kicks that were prevalent last year more difficult for Miami to execute. It’s at these moments when the HEAT have to adapt and keep the ball moving. With the defense zeroing-in on a particular action, there should be somebody open on the weak-side for a catch-and-shoot opportunity. Like I stated in my first response, those looks were falling in the first half against Denver, which proves that Miami knows how to get the job done.

At the end of the day, there’s enough depth on the team to keep the opposition on its toes, as seven HEAT players are averaging 10 or more points per game this season. As long as the team sticks to its principles and good habits, all should be fine.

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Highlights:

Jan. 8 – HEAT at Clippers

Dec. 16 – Clippers at HEAT

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT are 3-5, while the Clippers enter the contest at 5-3.
  • Seven Miami players are averaging 10 or more points per game. 
  • Blake Griffin leads Los Angeles in points (23.8) and assists (4.4) per contest.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 101.5 (22)
  • HEAT Defense: 104.3 (17)
  • Clippers Offense: 108.9 (2) 
  • Clippers Defense: 102.0 (11)

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