The Miami Heat wrap up their six-game road trip tonight, and they'll look to end on a winning note against the young Phoenix Suns. These two teams already faced off once this season in Miami, on November 5, with Miami winning a 124-99 blowout. Reigning MVP LeBron James led the way with 23 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists.
However, Miami is in enemy territory and may not have guard and team leader Dwyane Wade. He is nursing a sore ankle and did not play in Thursday night's game at Denver. If he does not play again tonight, the Heat could be in for a hard-fought evening against the Suns' run-and-gun game.
Even worse, James is fighting an illness and will be a game-time decision.
Miami still has a good chance to win, however, just because of the chemistry it has showcased all season long. The defending champions have some great depth off the bench in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, and the entire team has played hard from start to finish all season long.
Against the young Phoenix squad, this could prove to be the difference-maker.
Time: Saturday, November 17th, 9:00 p.m. EST
TV: Fox Arizona HD
Records: Miami Heat (7-3) vs. Phoenix Suns (4-6)
Betting Lines: Not available as of Friday, November 16th, 11:57 a.m. EST
Injuries: LeBron James (illness) Dwyane Wade (ankle), Mario Chalmers (triceps), Markieff Morris (back)
Key Storyline: Shorthanded Miami Heat Look to End Road Trip On Positive Note
The Miami Heat are a great team, having made the NBA Finals each of the past two seasons and winning in 2012. But they have constantly struggled on the road. They are 3-3 away from home this year and have gone 49-31 since the formation of their Big Three.
This six-game trip has been a typical one for Miami. The Heat have gone 3-2, but each win has been a hard-fought battle. All three wins were won by a combined margin of 14 points.
That said, a 4-2 record on this road trip would be ideal for the Heat and may motivate them to play harder when away from American Airlines Arena. It won't be easy if Wade doesn't play, but it would make the Heat look like an even more dangerous team.
Against a fast-paced Suns team, however, it's going to be an uphill battle. Miami needs to slow the game down and make Phoenix play defense. Slow down the offense, and the raucous crowd is taken out of the game.
Take the crowd out of the game, and life becomes difficult for the Suns.
Key Matchup: LeBron James vs. Michael Beasley
The Suns brought in Michael Beasley to provide a jolt to the offense, as he has shot 35 percent from long range for his career, and his natural scoring touch is a perfect fit for Phoenix's fast offense. Through nine games, however, he has struggled mightily.
Beasley has averaged just 13.1 points per game and shot just 35 percent from the field. From three-point range, he's made an underwhelming 27 percent of his shots. Thus far, it's safe to call signing him a mistake.
That said, if Miami is to win this game, it is critical that LeBron James latch onto Beasley and never let go. The former Kansas State Wildcat has shown throughout his career that he can start scoring out of nowhere and keep it up for an extended period of time, so it is imperative that tough defense be played against him.
Fortunately for the Heat, James is one of the best defenders in the league. He has averaged 1.7 steals per game for his career and is easily the best all-around player in the league.
Beasley has more height at 6'10", but weighs just 235 pounds and isn't exactly a top athlete. James, on the other hand, is 6'8", 250 pounds and plays with the tenacity of a player far bigger. This man has been named MVP three times for a reason, and when he defends Beasley (and if he plays tonight at all), he'll provide the fans the perfect reminder why.
X-Factor: LeBron James
With Wade and Mario Chalmers potentially out of the lineup, it is up to James to carry his team to victory, even though he's feeling under the weather. He can give his team a momentum advantage at the drop of a hat, and against a fast-paced Phoenix team, he and his teammates are just going to have to run faster.
On top of that, James is an absolute triple threat. He can score, pass and rebound with ease. If he isn't killing the opposition in one department, he'll be killing them in another.
Sometimes, there is simply no way to take him out of the game.
Since an inferior defender in Beasley will be covering him, James is in a prime position to have a great game against the Suns. Even if Wade and Chalmers do end up playing, he will still be the best athlete on the court and the man Miami needs to carry them to victory.
With his skill set, it's hard to believe that he won't have a good game if he plays.
This is going to be another high-scoring contest, albeit one that was closer than both teams' first meeting with each other this year. Miami will put up with a greater effort from Phoenix this time, but it won't be enough for an upset special.
The Heat will emerge victorious after the final buzzer and be able to call their lengthy road trip a success. James will get close to a triple-double as he does his best Michael Jordan impression, and Chris Bosh will provide a solid effort in the paint as well. On offense, expect some clutch three pointers from Shane Battier and Ray Allen as both men finish in double figures.
Phoenix will definitely have Miami's respect after this game, thanks to some tough defense and quality scoring from Goran Dragic. But the Suns' youth just won't be able to handle the defending champions' attack. In the end, despite a respectable effort, they will lose ground in the NBA Pacific.
Miami Heat 107, Phoenix Suns 100