The Miami Heat are playing some great basketball this season, but still struggle against teams with more size than them. They will be tested in this department yet again on Saturday when the Utah Jazz visit the American Airlines Arena.
Utah has two excellent young big men in Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, and head coach Tyrone Corbin has established the duo as his two go-to guys.
The Heat have one clear advantage against the Jazz. They do a much better job of putting points on the board. Utah, though talented, does not have much consistency at guard and as a result, the team tends to overly rely on its twin towers in the middle.
Miami will try to take full advantage of that on Saturday night, likely looking to play their signature fast-paced offense against a slower Jazz team. Of course, the team must also play defense.
With Millsap and Jefferson both excelling in that department, the Jazz just might be able to pull off an upset.
Time: Saturday, December 22nd, 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: Sun Sports, ROOT Sports
Records: Utah Jazz (14-13) vs. Miami Heat (17-6)
Betting Lines: Not available as of Friday, December 21, 8:29 a.m. EST
Key Storyline: Can Utah's Size Extinguish Fiery Heat?
The Miami Heat may be the defending champions, but they have looked like anything but that defensively this season. They are currently the second-worst rebounding team in the league and just haven't been playing that suffocating defense that helped them to last year's title.
As was mentioned before, one of Miami's key struggles this season is against teams with premier size in the paint. Of their six losses this season, four have come against squads with dominant and defensive centers: the New York Knicks (twice), Memphis Grizzles and Los Angeles Clippers.
This makes Utah even more of a challenge for the Heat. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap average a combined 31.5 points, 18.4 rebounds and two blocks per game, and both shoot about 48 percent from the field. They may not be A-list big men, but they do know how to man the paint and play good defense.
Miami will have to fight past their interior presence just to have a shot at winning. Head coach Erik Spoelstra must use his run-and-gun offense, but must also be willing to drive the lane against Millsap and Jefferson and try to draw fouls. Both average about three per game, so getting them into foul trouble can and will be the difference-maker in this game.
Otherwise, Utah's toughness on the inside could prove to be too much for Miami, and the upset will be pulled off.
Key Matchup: Chris Bosh vs. Al Jefferson
The main reason Miami has struggled against superior size is because of Spoelstra's decision to let Chris Bosh play center. Nothing against the guy, but this is the wrong position for him.
Bosh has the height and build to play the 5 at 6'11", 235 pounds, but he is more of a scoring power forward than a true defensive center. He is averaging 18 points and 7.9 rebounds per game and likes to incorporate his jump shot rather than stay in the paint and take high-percentage shots. As a result, he does not have many opportunities for rebounds, thus Miami's low performance in that area.
Jefferson, on the other hand, has blossomed into a fine young center. He is an inch shorter than Bosh, but his 289 pounds make him a force to be reckoned with under the basket.
By throwing his weight around in the paint and the rest of the hardwood, Jefferson has averaged 16.8 points and 10.2 rebounds on the season. He is a fine low-post player and, like Bosh, has a pretty decent jump shot.
The only difference between the two is that Jefferson is a superior defender. Though he does not live exclusively in the paint, he never backs down from his effort on defense and does all he can to go after each and every rebound. Bosh, on the other hand, tends to be a bit soft under the basket.
The former Georgia Tech star is going to have to put in an extra effort on defense against Utah, as his beating Jefferson and/or Millsap on the boards is the key to Miami coming away with the victory. The only way to defeat Miami is to out-defend them, and Utah will be prepared to do just that.
If Bosh can sacrifice his offense in favor of defense, then the Heat will have more than just a fighting chance.
X-Factor: Derrick Favors
Utah needs to play supreme defense in order to defeat Miami, but what about when Jefferson and Millsap are both on the bench? Miami's offense should be able to run rampant and quickly build a big lead that borders on the insurmountable.
That is, unless Derrick Favors happens to be on his best game.
Like Miami's Chris Bosh, Favors is a big man out of Georgia Tech and was taken with the third pick in 2010 draft by the then-New Jersey Nets. He split time between the bench and starting lineup, but was then sent to Utah in the Deron Williams trade.
Favors has since grown into a viable bench big man for the Jazz. He is averaging 22.2 minutes per game and has posted 9.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. With Jefferson and Millsap both hitting free agency this summer, the stage is set for him to become a star for the Jazz.
He must perform like one coming off the bench in Miami. With the two starters on the bench, Favors needs to be in full defensive mode, going after every rebound and being aggressive on the shot-blocking front. He has the size for it at 6'10", 248 pounds, and must not back down against the more experienced Bosh.
Just the same, Favors performing well will help Utah keep the game close, which could have the Heat push the panic button at some points. Keeping the score close is the key to getting Miami to make mistakes, and Favors having a good game off the bench can help that to happen.
Utah's frontcourt will put up a respectable effort against the Miami Heat, but that effort will unfortunately fall short. The defending champions are just too good and too deep, and the Jazz just do not have the backcourt consistency nor scoring to keep up with them.
Chris Bosh may struggle past the defenses of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, but LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will both take control on offense and provide Miami with the spark it needs. Ray Allen's sharpshooting off the bench will also play a key role, as Utah's guards will have no answer for him.
More importantly, Derrick Favors' inexperience will show. He'll put in a good effort but won't be able to keep up with speedy Miami. He will instead post below-average numbers, and all coach Tyrone Corbin will be able to do is watch.
It may be a close game at times, but Miami will hammer in the coffin's final nail in the fourth quarter. They will win again, and Utah's youth will be fully exposed.
Miami Heat 107, Utah Jazz 97
All statistics in this article are accurate as of December 20, 2012