Miami HEAT at Phoenix Suns Game Preview

The Miami HEAT face the Phoenix Suns Wednesday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The HEAT defeated the Suns 112-97 in their last meeting on Mar. 21. Tip-off is set for 9:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 8:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: Despite losing by a sizeable margin, what positives did you take away from Miami’s loss to Golden State?

Couper Moorhead: Despite scoring being a struggle with the Warriors switching most actions and covering most passing lanes to shooters in order to induce as much one-on-one play as possible, the HEAT were the first team this season to hold Golden State to an offensive rating below 100 and the sixth team since Kevin Durant joined them. Miami also held the Warriors to their third-lowest effective field-goal percentage and true-shooting percentage in a single game during that span of time. Against what might be the best offensive team of all time, full stop, that’s not something that should be taken lightly.

How did Miami do it? They limited the corner threes as usual and pushed shots away from the rim and into the mid-range, but it was the tenacity of the guards in chasing the many shooters on the floor around and through screens that made all the difference. Josh Richardson, in particular, put in as good a performance against Steph Curry (5-of-19) that you’ll see in the regular season, even blocking Curry’s quick release at one point and causing a number of other pump fakes. Nobody enjoys a loss, but dynamic and consistent defensive performances like Monday’s are the sort that can launch a team into a very positive stretch of ball.

Joe Beguiristain: It was all about the defense for Miami. A day after bottling up the Clippers, the HEAT continued to be sharp against the best offense in the league. In fact, Golden State shot a season-low 36.8 percent from the field and struggled to get things going in the halfcourt. Instead, the Warriors capitalized on the break, where they turned 23 Miami turnovers into 29 points.

Still, Josh Richardson and James Johnson had stellar defensive performances against some of the toughest assignments they’ll see all year. Johnson helped limit Kevin Durant to 5-of-13 shooting, while Richardson’s length and athleticism caused fits for Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who combined to shoot just 10-of-34.

Things weren’t as smooth on the offensive end for the HEAT, but they fought hard as usual. Johnson knocked down three treys and led the team in nearly every statistical category, Bam Adebayo brought energy off the bench in the second half and Goran Dragić continued to get into the paint. Hopefully those things can continue on the tail end of this road trip.

2: What changes have the Suns made to their roster and how do you expect they’ll affect this matchup?

Couper: Well, just Tuesday morning the Suns traded Eric Bledsoe to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Greg Monroe and two draft picks. Even though Bledsoe hadn’t been playing with the team since the first week, that’s as significant a trade as you usually see in the first month of the season. So while Bledsoe was the starting point guard as the season opens, now it’s Mike James, and one side effect is that Devin Booker’s usage rate is nearly 28 percent. He’s only 21, but Booker is already shouldering the bulk of this team’s offense.

As for how the matchup will be affected, we don’t yet know because Monroe’s status is undetermined as of this writing. If he can play that will give the Suns a strong scoring and rebounding presence for their second unit – though his fit with Alex Len is a question that will have to be answered. 

The Suns also added a highly athletic and skilled swingman in Josh Jackson during the draft, and he’s shooting 35.5 percent from three despite 39 percent shooting overall from the field. The main thing to be concerned about with Phoenix is that they’ll spread the floor as much as possible with a number of stretch-four capable players, but if Miami can defend the arc much like they did in Golden State they’ll be working with a strong foundation.

Joe: As Coup mentioned above, the two biggest moves for the Suns were trading away Eric Bledsoe for Greg Monroe and adding Josh Jackson in the draft. Monroe has been dealing with a left calf strain, so he’ll likely be out for Wednesday night’s matchup. Jackson, meanwhile, has shown flashes as a versatile two-way player who can score in a bunch of different ways. While his shooting percentage is rather low, that’s to be expected with a rookie.

T.J. Warren on the other hand, who starts ahead of Jackson for the time being, has had a breakout season by all accounts. Case in point: the 24-year-old dropped a career-high 40 points on 16-of-22 shooting against Washington on Nov. 1. Long story short, Warren’s versatility has paid dividends thus far.

At the end of the day though, this is Devin Booker’s team. The former Kentucky Wildcat, who scored 70 points in a game last year, is currently averaging career highs in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists and steals per game.

3: What can Miami do Wednesday night to help their offense?

Couper: A game against the Warriors is never a great barometer for your offense given how they can flatten an offense out with their unending supply of switchable players. No team in the league is as capable of forcing one-on-one play. Against Phoenix, currently the No. 25 ranked defense in the league, and with Dion Waiters returning to the fold Miami should be able to get back to their usual drive-and-kick system that has produced good looks all season long even as those same shots haven’t always gone in. Shooting goes up and down all season, the important part is that you give your shooters the same opportunities. And as long as there is plenty of motion happening outside of the initial pick-and-roll action, off-ball screens and weakside cuts and the like, there will be plenty of outlets for when the first drive is snuffed out. As for the turnovers, we’ve discussed them plenty but just to reiterate, not all of them are bad. When your turnovers are coming from trying to make plays for teammates, as many of them have, then your offense has places it can go (as it did last season).

Joe: Things should be a little easier against a Suns team that has had trouble on the defensive end thus far, but the number one thing with the HEAT is keeping turnovers to a minimum. Although Phoenix doesn’t force the opposition to commit that many turnovers, it still is the second-fastest team in the league. If Miami gets a little careless with the ball and the Suns get out on the break early, that could be troublesome. The last thing you want is Phoenix receiving easy buckets and gaining momentum in front of its home crowd.

That said, the HEAT should be able to keep the Suns guessing with their ability to attack with a number of different ball-handlers.  We’ll see how it all pans out. 

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Highlights:

Mar. 21 – Suns at HEAT

Jan. 3 – HEAT at Suns

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT are 4-6, while the Suns enter the contest at 4-7 on the year.
  • Josh Richardson has accumulated seven steals in the past three games.
  • Devin Booker leads Phoenix in scoring at 21.6 points per game.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 99.2 (28)
  • HEAT Defense: 103.5 (16)
  • Suns Offense: 99.8 (26)
  • Suns Defense: 107.8 (25)

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