Team Records: Miami (27-7) at Portland (18-17)
Game Info: 7:30 p.m., TV on TNT, Radio on 750 the Game
Vegas Line: Miami -4.5
Refs: Bill Kennedy, Eric Dalen, JT Orr.
The Skinny: Fresh off a flat loss in Denver Wednesday, Portland returns home to face the team with the best record in the NBA, the Miami Heat. Miami comes into this game on a roll, having not played since a drubbing of the Knicks a week ago. They have won 8 in a row, all by double digit margins.
Last Season: For the second year in a row, Portland and Miami split the season series, each winning on the other’s home court.
Projected Heat Lineup:
PF: Chris Bosh (Georgia Tech, 9th Season) – 18.4 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2 APG
SF: LeBron James (St. Vincent-St. Mary’s (HS), 9th season) – 27.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 6.8 APG
C: Joel Anthony (UNLV, 9th season) – 3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, .1 APG
SG: Dwayne Wade (Marquette, 9th season) – 22.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.8 APG
PG: Mario Chalmers (Kansas, 9th season) – 11.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 3.6 APG
Player to Watch: LeBron James (pictured at right) – Love him or hate him, there is no question that LeBron James is a special talent. On offense, he is deadly from virtually anywhere on the court. He can get to the rim, pull up and take the midrange jumper and even drain the occasional three pointer. On defense, LeBron is equally, if not more, effective, capable of defending any position on the court and rarely beaten on defense. As for flaws, beyond his limited outside shooting, most of his major flaws seem to be mental. Since the NBA finals last year, he has had a problem closing out games by himself (although you could ask Portland fans how well he closed out their win vs. the Blazers last year for one). Whatever the case, it has gotten to the point where he defers to Wade to take the last shot, which seems to work just fine. On Miami, after all, they aren’t exactly short of talent.
Did You Know?: Miami head coach Erik Spolestra is a Portland native, a member of the Jesuit HS Hall of Fame and was West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year in 1989 while attending and playing for the University of Portland.
Song of the Day: “Nazgul Theme” from Lord of the Rings-Miami often resembles these evil creatures from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, intent on destroying all in their path:
Portland: Out – C Greg Oden (knee), C Joel Przybilla (Rust), Questionable-PF Kurt Thomas (Concussion).
Both Nate McMillan and Erik Spolestra visited Chip Kelly’s practices this offseason to learn how to mix a faster tempo with effective play. For Portland, whether due to coaching or personnel deficiencies, it hasn’t really worked out as planned but for Miami, it most certainly has. Miami is that deadliest of combinations, high pace and high efficiency. They can score from anywhere on the court and the focus on defending their big three usually leaves open shots for their outside shooters. They can tend to struggle against zone defenses since none of their three primary scorers has a great outside shot but few teams have played a consistent zone versus Miami through a full game. On defense, they are at least equally effective. They can lock you down with the best of them and force turnovers in bunches. If Miami has a weakness, it is either their lack of a true center or strong PG or their lack of bench depth These can be problems in close games late, where Miami has struggled to close out opponents. Still, beating them requires focus, effort, talent and frankly more than a little bit of luck, and that may still not enough.
The Bottom Line:
Portland wins if: They limit Miami’s scoring outside Bosh, Wade and James. Miami’s big three is good enough to win on their own but they are damn near impossible to stop if they get help from the rest of their team on offense. Portland will have to hope to keep the rest of Miami’s team off the score sheet and take their chances with making the big three beat them on their own.
Miami wins if: They out rebound Portland. Portland has really struggled as of late when they are out-rebounded, last night being the latest example. If Miami can accomplish this, they will almost certainly make it nine wins a row for the league’s best team.