7:30 PM EST, TNT – Line: Heat -2, Over/Under: 217.5
With the Second Half of the Regular Season in full swing and the Trade Deadline set to expire at 3:00 EST today the time is now for those who fashion themselves as contenders to make the requisite moves to bolster their ranks in lieu of a postseason run, which is something that both the Portland Trail Blazers and Miami Heat have heavily considered as they face off tonight at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida. With all this talk of wheeling and dealing at the Deadline, there is a very strong argument that the best move that the Trail Blazers (25-18, 6th in Western Conference) can make is to simply sit tight and return to full strength. After all, they’ve managed to position themselves comfortably above the Play-In Tournament line (1.5 games above Seventh) with an opportunity to climb higher in the standings thanks to the return of some long-missing weapons. Portland was without (sharpshooting Guard) C.J. McCollum (23.8 PTS, 43.9% FG, 42.5% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 4.3 AST, 1.1 STL, 23.0 PER) for twenty-five games due to a broken bone in his foot, along with (towering Center) Jusuf Nurkic (9.8 PTS, 48.5% FG, 25.0% 3FG, 7.7 REB, 2.8 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.9 BLK, 16.1 PER) who has since missed thirty-one games with a torn ligament in his wrist, and (young Power Forward) Zach Collins, who has yet to play this season following surgery to repair a stress fracture in his ankle. McCollum returned to the fray ten days ago with a clean bill of health, with (Head Coach) Terry Stotts easing him back into the rotation; the 29-year old has logged over thirty minutes of play in just one of the last five games since his return, averaging 16.4 points on 33.3% shooting from the field, including 37.2% from beyond the arc, along with 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists, but did enjoy a return to form with thirty-two points in Friday’s 125-119 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. Prior to injury, McCollum was in the midst of a career campaign in which he was posting personal bests in both points (23.8) and three-point percentage (42.5%), and the hope is that he will indeed return to form before long to help alleviate the scoring burden from (All-NBA Point Guard) Damian Lillard (30.1 PTS, 45.2% FG, 37.8% 3FG, 4.4 REB, 7.7 AST, 0. STL, 26.9 PER), who has continued his torrid form from the previous term, averaging a career-high 30.1 points per contest. Nurkic on the other hand, is expected to make his return in about a week’s time, which will provide the Blazers with some much-needed size and length around the rim as well as a playmaking presence in the paint. Portland has been one of the poorer defensive teams in the league this season, particularly in the paint where they’ve allowed 54.9% shooting (29th Overall) and have struggled to handle their own on the glass with a defensive rebounding percentage of just 76.3% (26th Overall). Granted, without Nurkic and Collins to lean on, Stotts has once again been forced to get creative with his lineups, with (Swiss international) Enes Kanter (12.1 PTS, 59.8% FG, 11.6 REB, 1.3 AST, 0.7 BLK, 22.3 PER) returning to the club after a one-year stay in Boston and (veteran Forward) Carmelo Anthony (14.0 PTS, 41.9% FG, 38.7% 3FG, 3.3 REB, 1.7 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.7 BLK, 15.1 PER) logging minutes in the middle. While a legitimate 6’10”, Kanter’s strengths have long-been on the offensive end of the hardwood and Anthony has promptly checked his ego at the door and done everything that the Coaching Staff as asked of him, even if it’s been doing the dirty work against players larger and longer than he. And speaking of the ten-time All-Star, the 36-year old has really impressed in a variety of roles in the absence of McCollum, averaging 16.2 points per game in a six-week period from the beginning of February to the middle of March, shooting a torrid 40.8% from downtown with nine 20-point games to his credit over that period. So with all that said, what can Portland do to improve themselves at the Deadline, you ask? Reports out of the Pacific Northwest indicate that Stotts and (General Manager) Neil Olshey have been on the lookout for reinforcements, and have managed to add another weapon on the wing in the form of (veteran Swingman) Norman Powell (19.6 PTS, 49.8% FG, 43.9% 3FG, 3.0 REB, 1.8 AST, 1.1 STL, 17.6 PER) in a deal with the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Gary Trent Jr. (15.0 PTS, 41.4% FG, 39.7% 3FG, 2.2 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.9 STL, 12.7 PER) and Rodney Hood (4.7 PTS, 36.3% FG, 29.8% 3FG, 1.9 REB, 1.8 STL, 5.1 PER). The 27-year old showed steady improvement in each of his six seasons with Toronto, finally breaking into the Starting Lineup and finds himself in the midst of a career campaign in which he’s logged personal bests in a slew of categories including points (19.6), field goal percentage (49.8%), three-point percentage (43.9%), and assists (1.8). From a financial standpoint, Powell is set to be an Unrestricted Free Agent this Summer, while Trent Jr. who while five years younger and has been a breakout contributor is scheduled to be a Restricted Free Agent, with Hood carrying a non-guaranteed $10.9 million into the following campaign. This move allows Portland to shed salary if they wish, while adding a veteran player who fits their system to a tee, while offering some insurance behind McCollum.
“I think both teams played real good basketball, both teams competed throughout the beginning of the game, throughout the whole fourth quarter. They just made some extra couple of shots at the end of the quarter.”Enes Kanter on the Blazers’ narrow 116-112 loss at home to the Brooklyn Nets in which they only managed 21 points in the Fourth Quarter.
When we last saw the Trail Blazers, the dropped their second consecutive outing at home as they followed up their largest home defeat of the campaign, a 40-point drubbing at the hands of the Mavericks, by coming up short against the surging Brooklyn Nets in a 116-112 affair from MODA Center. Portland started off strong, outscoring the visitors 41-37 in the first frame, shooting 12-of-23 (52.2%) from the field, including 7-of-14 from beyond the arc (50.0%), and 10-of-11 from the free-throw line (90.9%), with Kanter having his way in the paint with thirteen of his nineteen points coming in the period. Unfortunately, this showing on the offensive end wasn’t sustainable, for the hosts simply couldn’t keep pace with Brooklyn over the duration, particularly in the Fourth quarter in which they were outscored 24-21. Stotts’ troops went ice-cold in this stanza, netting a miserable 7-of-22 attempts (31.8%), including just 2-of-12 from downtown (16.7%), and getting to the line for only six free-throw attempts, a sign of tired legs. In the end, the home side shot just 40.0% from the field, 19-of-55 from three (34.5%), and 21-of-23 from the charity stripe (91.3%), with Lillard and McCollum combining for thirty-eight points though both players struggled mightily from the floor in shooting below 30.0% apiece, accounting for 10-of-36 shooting overall (27.8%), including 7-of-26 from the perimeter (26.9%). Kanter posted his twenty-third Double-Double (nineteen points and rebounds), though as we stated earlier, the majority of his production came during his side’s strong First Quarter. In what would be their final outing with the club, Trent Jr. finished with eleven points off the bench, while Hood added another three. Anthony provided fifteen points on 6-of-12 shooting in just over twenty-three minutes. On the defensive end, the Blazers struggled to slow down the juggernaut that has become the Nets, even with both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the sidelines. To the surprise of nobody, (2016-17 MVP) James Harden was more than enough for the visiting side, totaling twenty-five points and seventeen assists as Brooklyn shot a stellar 49.4% from the floor, though just 9-of-30 from long range (30.0%). Portland was absolutely eviscerated in the paint, where they were outscored 64-28, with some of that damage coming in transition where they were Minus-11. Even with McCollum back in uniform, depth proved to be an issue for Stotts as both Anfernee Simons (8.0 PTS, 39.4% FG, 40.9% 3FG, 2.3 REB, 1.4 AST, 11.7 PER) and Nassir Little (5.3 PTS, 46.5% FG, 38.9% 3FG, 2.6 REB, 13.7 PER) were prohibited from playing right before tip-off due to the league’s COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocols. With their collective absence along with the aforementioned trade, Portland comes into this matchup with Miami very shorthanded, so look for Stotts to dive even deeper into his bench.
Meanwhile, much was expected of the Heat (22-22, 5th in Eastern Conference) coming into this season, particularly given their surprising progression to the NBA Finals last Fall. However, like many teams around the National Basketball Association in 2020-2021, that absurdly quick turnaround from one season to the next coupled with a wealth of injuries and absences due to COVID-19 had stunted their growth, leading to a rocky start in which they were a meager 7-14 in early February. (All-NBA Guard) Jimmy Butler (21.3 PTS, 48.1% FG, 21.2% 3FG, 7.9 REB, 7.3 AST, 2.0 STL, 26.1 PER) missed fourteen games, while fellow Guards, Tyler Herro (15.1 PTS, 41.4% FG, 31.2% 3FG, 5.4 REB, 3.4 AST, 0.7 STL, 11.5 PER), Goran Dragic (13.9 PTS, 44.1% FG, 34.9% 3FG, 3.3 REB, 4.9 AST, 0.6 STL, 13.1 PER), Kendrick Nunn (13.3 PTS, 44.7% FG, 36.2% 3FG, 3.2 REB, 2.6 AST, 1.1 STL, 12.4 PER), and Avery Bradley (8.5 PTS, 47.0% FG, 42.1% 3FG, 1.8 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.7 STL, 10.4 PER) have lost a combined SIXTY-NINE games thus far, with both Dragic (back) and Bradley (calf) currently on the mend with respective injuries. With that said, as they slowly returned to full strength they would begin to round into the side that pushed the Lakers to six games last October; from February 5th to March 16th this one of the hottest teams in the NBA, winning fifteen of nineteen contests, including eleven out of twelve at one point, thanks in large part to suffocating play on the defensive end of the hardwood in which they relegated opponents to a mere 102.0 points on 43.4% shooting from the field and 33.7% from beyond the arc, while yielding 25.1 assists in comparison to forcing 15.1 turnovers. Butler was dominant during that stretch, averaging 23.2 points on 48.8% shooting, with 8.2 rebounds, 8.8 assists, and 2.2 steals, registering four Triple-Doubles over that span, including three in a row at one point. As a result, Eric Spoelstra’s charges managed to climb their way out of the doldrums in the East and place themselves comfortably above the Play-In line, but have since fallen back to the pack after a four-game losing streak. This latest stretch has been mired by poor shooting, with the Heat mustering a disappointing 100.3 points per game on just 40.7% shooting, including 27.7% from downtown. If it wasn’t made abundantly clear earlier in the campaign that they were in need of more firepower, then it’s become crystal at this point, which is why the franchise has been one of the most active in trade negotiations over the past week. Miami added (veteran Swingman) Trevor Ariza (4.0 PTS, 23.5% FG, 20.0% 3FG, 3.3 REB, 1.0 AST, 4.1 PER) in a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder for (injured Forward) Meyers Leonard (3.3 PTS, 42.9% FG, 42.9% 3FG, 2.3 REB, 0.7 AST, 6.6 PER) and a 2027 Second Round Pick, in an attempt to bring some experience, shooting, and defense which is are all qualities that the oft-traveled 35-year old can provide. This trade was followed by the acquisition of (versatile Forward) Nemanja Bjelica (7.2 PTS, 46.0% FG, 29.3% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 1.9 AST, 12.9 PER) in exchange for reserves, Moe Harkless (1.4 PTS, 38.5% FG, 45.5% 3FG, 1.2 REB, 0.6 AST, 4.6 PER) and Chris Silva (2.7 PTS, 69.2% FG, 2.3 REB, 0.5 AST, 13.4 PER). However, all eyes have been towards the potential addition of one of (veteran Point Guard) Kyle Lowry (17.4 PTS, 43.9% FG, 39.5% 3FG, 5.6 REB, 7.5 AST, 1.1 STL, 16.5 PER) or (former All-Star Guard) Victor Oladipo (20.8 PTS, 41.1% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 5.0 REB, 4.1 AST, 1.3 STL, 15.4 PER) with both players very much available; the former is set to move on after nine years with the Raptors, while the latter has turned down the offer to remain in Houston following this season, with both set to hit the market this Summer. With that said, though Lowry and Oladipo appear to be good fits from a scheme standpoint, the Heat have been very reticent to overpay for either player when they feel confident that they can sign either in Free Agency in just a few months. The time though is now for this team to improve, for as presently constructed it is very difficult to envision them making a postseason run similar to that of last year; at the moment they’re currently tied with the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks for Fifth in the East, with just 1.5 games separating them from Ninth in the standings.
“We’ll keep plugging away until we find the right solutions. We’re certainly better than what we’ve shown over the last four games on the offensive end.”Eric Spoelstra on Miami’s offensive struggles during this four-game losing streak in which they managed 41.9% shooting in Tuesday’s 110-100 loss at home to Phoenix.
When we last saw the Heat, they dropped their fourth consecutive game as they continued to sputter in a 110-100 loss at home to the surging Phoenix Suns. It was far from a stellar offensive performance for Miami, who shot a dismal 41.9% from the field, including 13-of-36 from beyond the arc (36.1%), and 15-of-17 from the free-throw line (88.2%). However, the Second Quarter was where the proverbial train fell of the tracks; the hosts were outscored 33-23 as they shot just 5-of-17 from the floor (29.4%), with virtually all of their production coming from downtown (4-of-9) and the charity stripe (9-of-10). Phoenix on the other hand, netted 13-of-24 attempts (54.2%) during the period, including 4-of-7 from three (57.1%), assisting on eight of those field goals. The visitors led by as many as twenty-three points in Tuesday night’s affair, doing a lot of their damage in transition, where they held a Plus-8 advantage in Fast Break Points. Butler finished with just fourteen points and eleven rebounds in under thirty minutes of play (due to fatigue), while Nunn ended the night with a team-high twenty-five points on 10-of-19 shooting (52.6%), including 5-of-9 from three (55.6%). (Versatile Center) Bam Adebayo (19.2 PTS, 55.7% FG, 28.6% 3FG, 9.5 REB, 5.4 AST, 0.9 STL, 1.1 BLK, 22.4 PER), totaled sixteen points, eight rebounds, and six assists, though these three would be the only players to score in double-figures for Spoelstra’s side. Like their opponent tonight, Miami is really shorthanded at the moment, with KZ Okpala (2.7 PTS, 40.9% FG, 29.7% 3FG, 2.0 REB, 5.2 PER) and Udonis Haslem both subject to the league’s Health ad Safety Protocols, while (veteran Forward) Kelly Olynyk (10.0 PTS, 43.1% FG, 31.7% 3FG, 6.1 REB, 2.1 AST, 0.9 STL, 12.1 PER) played sparsely to begin both halves before taking a seat on the bench, finishing with zero points on 0-of-6 shooting. For the Heat, their wildly inconsistent run of form continues; Miami has enjoyed winning streaks of four, five, and six thus far while also suffering losing streaks of three (twice), four, and five to boot. Simply put, with the other powers in the East getting better there may not be a team in the league in more need of making a move at the Deadline than these guys. We’ll just have to wait and see…