The hotshot Golden State Warriors will take their talents to South Beach on Wednesday night, when they face the defending champion Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Golden State is on a four-game winning streak and will look to make it five in a chance at first place in the Pacific Division; whereas Miami is looking to win its third straight and increase its lead in the Southeast.
Miami's collective experience makes it the better team on paper, but the young and feisty Warriors are not to be counted out. The team's defense is looking better than it has in years, and Golden State currently ranks fifth in the NBA in rebounding.
This could spell trouble for Miami, who ranks 29th in that department and also 22nd in points allowed at 99.6 per game. Seeing as how Golden State scores an average of 99.7 per game, this could pose a slight problem.
The Heat could also be short-handed against Golden State, assuming that top defender Udonis Haslem's flu-like symptoms do not dissipate. This leaves them without a key presence in the paint, which spells trouble against Golden State's new defense.
The Warriors also like to play the run-and-gun game, which could make for a close game against Miami. In a battle of youth vs. experience, this one is bound to be close.
Time: Wednesday, Dec. 12, 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: Sun Sports, CSN Bay HD
Records: Golden State Warriors (14-7) vs. Miami Heat (14-5)
Betting Lines: Golden State (+8), Miami (-8)
Injuries: Andrew Bogut (ankle, out); Richard Jefferson (calf, out); Brandon Rush (knee, out); Udonis Haslem (flu, day-to-day)
Key Storyline: Can Feisty Warriors Pull Off Upset Special?
As good as the Warriors have looked this year, they are still a young team. Save for injured forward Richard Jefferson, every man on the roster is under the age of 30.
Sure, the team has played well, but just how good a game they can play against the defending NBA champions remains to be seen.
Point man Stephen Curry has been great in his return from an ankle injury suffered last season, but his heavy reliance on his three-point shot is a bit troubling. He takes just under 16 shots per game, 6.4 of which are from long range. Granted, he makes 43 percent of his threes, but his using it so much could be cause for concern against Miami.
The same can be said for second-year guard Klay Thompson, who takes half of his shots from beyond the arc. He is averaging 15.9 points per game, but has shot just 40 percent from the field due to his excessive long-range shooting.
The only regularly consistent player in Golden State's lineup aside from Curry is forward David Lee, who is the face of the new defense. He goes after every rebound and has a nice jump shot too, which could be hard for Miami to cover.
Golden State still has what it takes to defeat Miami, despite its flaws, and will be playing extra hard in this game so as to come away with the ultimate win. It won't be easy, but they will surely be prepared.
Key Matchup: Stephen Curry vs. Mario Chalmers
The Warriors offense starts and stops with Curry, who has already established himself as one of the NBA's top scoring point guards. This season, he is averaging 20 points and 6.5 assists per game, and has also averaged 1.7 steals with his pesky defense.
Golden State needs Curry in order to create scoring opportunities against Miami, but that will be tough considering how he will be guarded by pest extraordinaire Mario Chalmers. The former Kansas Jayhawk is also averaging 1.7 steals this season, but has been without his usually deadly three-point shooting.
Both guards are about the same size, with Curry being just one inch taller at 6'3", but Chalmers is easily the better athlete. This is the same man who helped put an end to Linsanity last season, and he should have no trouble in stopping a somewhat similar guard in Curry.
Curry must thus try to beat Chalmers at his own game. Rather than try to shoot the lights out, he must either drive hard to the basket or be willing to sacrifice his scoring for distribution against Miami. He has plenty of talented teammates who can help shoulder the load, so it is just a matter of using his court vision to create open looks for them.
He has what it takes to become an offensive mastermind, so he must use his offensive advantage to outsmart Chalmers and help keep the score close. Otherwise, Chalmers will run rampant on defense and Golden State will have no chance.
X-factor: Ray Allen
Golden State is likely going to dominate Miami in rebounding thanks to David Lee and Carl Landry. This means that the Heat can only win the game one way: just outscore the Warriors from start to finish.
This will be hard to do without veteran shooter Ray Allen, who has averaged 12.3 points per game and has shot 47 percent from long range as Miami's sixth man this season. He has already made his fair share of clutch shots, and will help the Heat continue their search for a second consecutive championship.
However, in Miami's game against the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 10, Allen was a non-factor. He pulled down six rebounds and dished out three assists, but shot 1-of-8 from the field and did not sink one three-pointer. He finished the game with just three points in 27 minutes.
Allen will have a weak defender guarding him in Klay Thompson, which means he must use his experience to outplay the youngster. Rather than just wait in three-point territory for an open shot, he must create off the dribble and be willing to drive the lane. He must be ready to be fouled and also have plans to create his own shot.
This should not be hard for Allen, as he in his 17th season and well on his way to the Hall of Fame. The stage is set for him to have a good game against the Warriors, and it is just a matter of him implementing this very plan against an inexperienced opponent.
A win against the Miami Heat would be great for the Golden State Warriors, but it's just not going to happen today. The Heat are just too deep and talented, and are fully locked in following losses to the Washington Wizards and New York Knicks.
Oh, and did I mention that they have three of the best players in the NBA in their starting lineup?
The fact is that the Warriors can certainly keep this game close, but they won't be able to win it. Both teams will be playing the run-and-gun from start to finish, but Miami will make its shots more consistently and make Golden State look like just another young team that isn't quite ready to play with the big boys.
Who will win?
Chalmers will force Curry to pass the ball, which will result in a good game for Lee and another inconsistent shooting night from Thompson. Festus Ezeli will try to force Chris Bosh to play the low post, but to no avail. Harrison Barnes will be a virtual non-factor and be taken out of the game thanks to LeBron James.
Ray Allen will do a fine job of making his shots, scoring in double figures and turning his performance against Atlanta into an afterthought. His threes will make the difference late in the game, and Miami's streak will be increased to three.
Miami Heat 116, Golden State Warriors 108