10:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Warriors -1.5, Over/Under: 222.5
A pair of former NBA Finals participants who are simply looking to survive clash tonight as the Golden State Warriors look to remain afloat out west as they host the disappointing Miami Heat, from Chase Center in San Francisco, California. We’d love to say “my, oh my what a difference a year makes” but in reality it’s only been five months for the Heat (11-16, 10th in Eastern Conference), who went from being a surprise representative in the 2020 NBA Finals to yet another team that has been beset by injuries and COVID-19 in what can only be branded as a disappointing campaign thus far. For a variety of reasons, Miami has been unable to build much momentum throughout the first twenty-seven games of the season as their rotation has been decimated for long stretches due to crushing injuries and an outbreak of the virus, all the while their competition in the East have strengthened themselves. So let’s take a moment to run down the players that have missed time thus far, shall we? Erik Spoelstra has been without (veteran Guards) Jimmy Butler (19.9 PTS, 44.1% FG, 13.6% 3FG, 7.4 REB, 7.1 AST, 1.9 STL, 25.1 PER) and Goran Dragic (14.4 PTS, 45.6% FG, 35.9% 3FG, 3.1 REB, 5.3 AST, 0.5 STL, 13.4 PER) for a combined twenty-two games already, while (unheralded Sophomores) Tyler Herro (17.3 PTS, 45.0% FG, 34.5% 3FG, 5.8 REB, 3.9 AST, 0.5 STL, 12.4 PER) and Kendrick Nunn (13.4 PTS, 47.2% FG, 33.0% 3FG, 3.3 REB, 2.3 AST, 1.2 STL, 12.3 PER) have missed eight outings apiece. Furthermore, their biggest Free Agent acquisition, (veteran Guard) Avery Bradley (8.5 PTS, 47.0% FG, 42.1% 3FG, 1.8 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.7 STL, 10.4 PER), has missed sixteen of the last nineteen contests due to COVID-19 and now a strained calf muscle, while (reserve Center) Meyers Leonard (3.3 PTS, 42.9% FG, 42.9% 3FG, 2.3 REB, 0.7 AST, 6.6 PER) participated in just three games before succumbing to a season-ending shoulder injury. Needless to say, it’s been a hard season for the Heat thus far, and it absolutely shows in the numbers; a very perimeter-oriented team, Miami has floundered on the offensive end of the hardwood with so many Guards missing time, averaging a miserable 106.6 points per game (27th Overall) on 46.3% shooting from the field (16th Overall), including 35.2% from beyond the arc (24th Overall), while dishing out 25.4 assists (11th Overall) in comparison to committing a dreadful 16.4 turnovers (29th Overall). That last figure reflects their poor Guard play, for Spoelstra has been forced to rely upon players who aren’t necessarily comfortable handling the basketball to initiate the attack, turning it over on an NBA-worst 15.1% of their possessions (30th Overall). (Versatile Big) Bam Adebayo (19.8 PTS, 57.1% FG, 40.0% 3FG, 9.4 REB, 5.3 AST, 1.0 STL, 1.0 BLK, 22.6 PER), who has been one of the few healthy cogs in the machine, has assumed much of the playmaking duties with so many of the Guards out of action, logging a career-high 5.3 assists, but pulling him away from the rim has only made this team look even smaller, particularly around the rim where they’ve been one of the worst rebounding sides in the Association; the Heat rank dead-last in total rebounding (42.0), while sitting at next-to-last in offensive rebounding percentage (17.5%) and twenty-second overall in defensive rebounding percentage (76.9%). At one point it appeared that they had finally turned the corner, winning a season-high four consecutive games thanks to the healthy return of Butler & Co, outscoring the opposition by 10.5 points on 45.0% shooting, including 39.7% from downtown, while holding their own on the glass (Plus-1.8), getting to the charity stripe (25.5 FTA), limiting their turnovers (14.3), but have since lost back-to-back games on this lengthy seven-game western road trip as Dragic been sidelined again, this time with a sprained ankle. In this case, it’s been their play on the defensive end of the floor that has betrayed them, for they’ve yielded 118.5 points on 50.6% shooting, along with 28.5 assists in consecutive defeats to the West-leading Utah Jazz (112-94) and Los Angeles Clippers (125-118).
“I’m not going to say we gave one away, we didn’t deserve to win. We weren’t protecting the paint or rotating or running them off the line to make them miss. They were just comfortable the whole game.”Jimmy Butler on the Heat’s performance in Monday night’s 125-118 loss at the shorthanded Clippers
When we last saw the Heat, they failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity against one of the true, legitimate championship contenders in the league, as the Los Angeles Clippers outlasted them in a 125-118 affair despite missing a number of key contributors. The hosts were without four starters, most notably (All-Stars) Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, though nonetheless managed to fend off Miami, who were desperate to regain so momentum after their aforementioned four-game winning streak was snapped two nights beforehand in Utah. Though the game was tightly-contested throughout the first three periods of play with Los Angeles clinging to a 92-91 lead heading into the final stanza, the home side would extend their advantage to eleven points following back-to-back threes and a breakaway dunk. Spoelstra’s charges would cut the deficit to five but draw no closer as they simply couldn’t keep a team fielding mostly reserves at bay when they needed to. We spoke of their defensive struggles over the last two games and this one was really telling; the Clippers shot 55.3% from the field, including 15-of-32 from beyond the arc (46.9%), assisted on a healthy thirty-one of their forty-seven field goals, and committed just twelve turnovers. While the Heat shot well themselves (50.5%), they couldn’t match the three-point barrage of their opposition, as they were outscored twenty-one points in that regard, despite owning commanding advantages in the paint (Plus-18), in transition (Plus-10), and points off turnovers (Plus-5). In the end, Butler logged his second triple-double in the last three games with thirty points on 10-of-19 shooting (52.6%), including 10-of-10 from the free-throw line (100.0%), along with ten rebounds and assists apiece. Adebayo came close to matching that output with twenty-seven points on 12-of-15 shooting (80.0%), twelve rebounds and seven assists, while Herro added another twenty-seven off the bench on 11-of-20 shooting (55.0%), including 4-of-10 from downtown (40.0%). (Sharpshooting Forward) Duncan Robinson (12.6 PTS, 41.5% FG, 39.3% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 1.6 AST, 9.0 PER) chipped in with thirteen points on 5-of-13 shooting (38.5%), four rebounds and an assist as well. The defeat was Miami’s ninth in their last thirteen games on the road, as well as their ninth in their last fourteen overall. Tonight’s matchup with Golden State is their first this season after the Heat won each of last year’s encounters by a combined twenty-nine points.
Meanwhile, if you’re of the mind to suggest that there is indeed an NBA Finals Jinx then we would doubt that the Warriors (15-13, 8th in Western Conference) would argue against it, for they simply haven’t been the same since falling to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 Finals, ending their five-year run of dominance in emphatic fashion. In that fateful series they lost both (2013-2014 MVP) Kevin Durant to a ruptured Achilles and (sharpshooting All-Star) Klay Thompson to a torn ACL in a span of days, with the former leaving the franchise a few months later in Free Agency and the latter spending the ensuing 2019-2020 campaign rehabbing from said injury. Then after just four games, (two-time MVP) Stephen Curry (30.1 PTS, 49.9% FG, 43.6% 3FG, 5.3 REB, 5.9 AST, 1.2 STL, 26.1 PER) would miss all but one of the following sixty-six games with a broken hand, leaving Golden State to plummet to a miserable 15-50 finish (.231), their worst win percentage since the 2000-2001 season. To put this into proper context, the Dubs went from a dynastic run sporting a staggering .785 win percentage with five consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, including three Larry O’Brien trophies to the worst record in the Association seemingly overnight. However, Steve Kerr’s troops were set up nicely for a revenge tour, for backed by a healthy Curry and Thompson they were already NBA Champions before adding Durant to the mix, and after adding (athletic Swingman) Andrew Wiggins (17.5 PTS, 46.6% FG, 36.9% 3FG, 4.6 REB, 2.2 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.4 BLK, 14.2 PER) at the Trade Deadline and using the No. Two Overall Pick in the 2020 NBA Draft on (promising Center) James Wiseman (12.2 PTS, 50.3% FG, 40.9% 3FG, 6.1 REB, 0.7 AST, 1.3 BLK, 15.1 PER) the rotation appeared to be reinvigorated for a new era. Unfortunately, what initially looked great on paper has since been scrapped as Thompson once again suffered a devastating injury, inexplicably tearing his Achilles tendon during a pickup game weeks before the truncated preseason was to begin. As a result, it’s pretty much been the Steph Curry Show thus far, with arguably the most lethal sniper in NBA history forced to carry a misfit cast of characters on his shoulders. While Wiggins has played well and Wiseman has shown flashes, (journeyman Swingman) Kelly Oubre (13.9 PTS, 40.2% FG, 29.7% 3FG, 5.8 REB, 1.4 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.8 BLK, 12.0 PER) has been nothing short of a square peg in a round pole, while the Bench has been little more than afterthought. Even (veteran Forward) Draymond Green (5.2 PTS, 36.2% FG, 39.2% 3FG, 5.6 REB, 8.3 AST, 1.3 STL, 0.6 BLK, 10.2 PER), who remains the team’s chief playmaker in the Halfcourt has continued to see his shooting figures plummet, netting a dismal 36.2% of this attempts from the field, including a scant 18.6% from the perimeter en route to only 5.2 points per game. Simply put, the spacing that they once enjoyed with Curry, Thompson, and Durant has disappeared, with opponents able to funnel wave after wave of defenders towards the 32-year old, who has seen more double-teams than ever before. With that said, the chef has absolutely been cooking of late, singlehandedly keeping the Warriors on the fringes of the Playoff picture out West; over the last eight games, Curry has averaged a whopping 36.3 points on a blazing 58.3% shooting from the floor, including 49.5% from downtown, along with 5.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists, highlighted by a 57-point outburst against the Dallas Mavericks, and a pair of performances in which he knocked down ten or more three-pointers.
“It’s built on eight, nine years of experience that comes out whether we draw something up or just kind of feel it or see it. “It definitely helps just to find open space out there and exploit how teams are going to be aggressive on me.”Stephen Curry on his chemistry with longtime teammate Draymond Green, who matched a career-high with sixteen assists in Monday night’s 129-98 thumping of the Cavaliers
When we last saw the Warriors, they bounced back from an embarrassing seventeen-point loss in primetime to Durant’s Nets but sending the fading Cleveland Cavaliers to their eight consecutive defeat in a 129-98 affair on Monday night. Though this contest was tied at 32-32 after the end of the First Quarter, the visitors saw to it that rest of the way would be as one-sided as possible outscoring the home side 97-66 over the final three periods of play. It was clear that Golden State were taking out their frustrations from the weekend on the Cavs, shooting a blistering 52.3% from the field, including 17-of-37 from beyond the arc (45.9%), and 20-of-21 from the free-throw line (95.2%), while assisting on a healthy thirty-four of their forty-six field goals. Defensively, they relegated Cleveland to 38.9% shooting overall, including just 8-of-30 from the perimeter (26.7%), with nineteen assists in comparison to committing seventeen turnovers. The Dubs also held commanding advantages in three-point shooting (Plus-27) and in transition (Plus-14). Curry only needed three quarters to score a game-high thirty-six points on 13-of-19 shooting (68.4%) and 7-of-11 from downtown (63.6%), though five other Warriors would end the game in double-figures, with Wiggins and Oubre adding fifteen and fourteen respectively. Green only posted six points, but impacted the game in other ways matching a career-high with sixteen assists along with eight rebounds, as he started the outing at Center with both Wiseman and (Backup Center) Kevon Looney (3.7 PTS, 62.3% FG, 4.1 REB, 1.8 AST, 13.9 PER) out due to a sprained wrist and ankle respectively. The 30-year old, who was limited during that morning’s shootaround with a sore right knee, continued to prove his versatility in topping ten assists for the sixth time in his last seven outings. And speaking of runs, Curry is on quite a three-point run as he extended his own personal streak to NINETY games with a made three, which is the fourth-longest streak of it’s kind in NBA history. Of course, the marksman is also the holder of the longest record, netting a trey in an insane 157 consecutive contests. He also became just the second player to score at least twenty-five points on 50.0% or better shooting in ten straight games, with the other being the one and only Michael Jordan.