7:30 PM EST, NBA TV – Line: Miami -1
Life after LeBron continues on South Beach as the undefeated Miami Heat host the Houston Rockets in a matchup of unbeatens at AmericanAirlines Arena. Many questioned what would happen to the Heat (3-0) after the four-time MVP departed for his much-publicized return home. Not one to simply concede defeat, Pat Riley led the front office on an aggressive hunt for talent in the Offseason; Miami resigned both Dwyane Wade and Chria Bosh to long-term deals, while also acquiring the likes of Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts, and Danny Granger in an attempt to fill the sizeable void left behind by James. And with that said, the early returns have been positive for Erick Spostra and his charges, who have jumped out of the gate with three consecutive victories to begin the campaign. Last Sunday at home against the Raptors, the Four-time Defending Conference Champions withstood a furious rally late from the reigning Atlantic Division Champs in a 107-102 win. The hosts outscored the visitors 64-53 at Halftime, shooting a healthy 50.0% from the field, including 9-of-24 from beyond the arc (.375), while owning the boards 43-28. Bosh led the way with 21 points on 5-of-13 shooting (.385), including eleven rebounds, four assists, and a steal, all the while netting ten of his thirteen free-throw attempts.
And speaking of Bosh, the nine-time All-Star will be the center of attention tonight, for during Free Agency the versatile Power Forward was heavily courted by the Rockets, who had dreams of creating their own Big Three and pairing him with Dwight Howard. Many felt that James’ departure would help facilitate the move, but Bosh ultimately decided to return to Miami on a massive five-year $118.7 million max deal as the foundation of the franchise. And to his credit, he is repaying Riley and Co. in kind; through three games, Bosh is averaging career-highs in points (25.7), rebounds (11.3), and assists (4.0), while also putting forth 1.3 steals per contest. The major difference is that while the veteran often looked passive at times playing alongside LeBron, he has exhibited an aggressive style of play that has largely been absent since arriving in Miami five years ago. For example, Bosh is attempting 3.9 more field goals than last season, along with 6.3 free-throws, while securing 4.7 rebounds and dishing out 3.9 more assists. It’s easy to forget just how good he was in Toronto, but with the offense now clearly geared around him, Bosh has turned back the clock and could be a dark horse MVP candidate when it’s all said and done.
Meanwhile, the Rockets (4-0) have gotten off to a blistering start of their own, winning each of their first four contests to begin the season, thier best start since 1996. Last night, Kevin McHale’s charges traveled to Philadelphia where they handled the struggling 76ers with ease in a 104-93 victory wasn’t even that close. The visitors led 32-19 after the First Quarter, and after an inspired second stanza from the hosts cut the deficit to just one pint at the halfway mark, Houston went on to outscore Philly 49-39 over the final twenty-four minutes. Despite shooting just 42.7% from the field, the Rockets drained a whopping 16-of-34 from downtown (.471), along with 24-of-30 from the charity stripe (.800), all the while besting the Sixers by fifteen and eight points in those respective areas. Dwight Howard had eleven points and fourteen rebounds on the night, while James Harden scored a game-high 35 points, with seventeen of that number coming via the free-throw line.
Houston had quite the Offseason themselves; in their failed bid to land the aforementioned Bosh, Kevin McHale and Co. consequently lost Chandler Parsons to Dallas, along with the likes of Omer Asik to New Orleans and Jeremy Lin to Los Angeles, leaving their bench dreadfully thin, and without a capable scorer on the wing. Enter Trevor Ariza, whom Management was able to pry away from the Wizards. Ariza, whom was traded away by these same Rockets back in 2010, is one of the league’s better 3-and-D players, meaning he’s a dangerous three-pointer that can in turn defend the perimeter at a high level. After producing 14.4 points on .456 shooting, including a career-best .407 from three, along with 6.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.6 steals in the Nation’s Capital, the 29-year old made himself some good money, as he inked his second deal with Houston, this time for $32 million over four years. And in the meantime, he has proven an excellent fit alongside Howard and Harden as the third wheel; Ariza has averaged 17.3 points on a stellar .571 shooting from the field, including an even hotter .593 from beyond the arc, with 5.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 steals. If he continues to play at this level, then Rockets fans will likely forget about Chris Bosh, as this franchise may finally advance past the First Round of the Playoffs for the first time since 2009.