The Miami Heat are not playing with the collective heart of a defending champion. In the midst of a west coast road trip, the team has lost three of its last four and continues to get dominated in the rebounding department. Against the Utah Jazz on January 14, Miami was out-rebounded 40-23.
The loss cemented the Heat's status as the worst rebounding team in the league, and their battles on the boards do not get any easier. They head to Oakland on January 16 to face the Golden State Warriors, who rank fifth in rebounding and have also lost three of four, albeit following a four-game winning streak.
It isn't the first time these teams have faced off this season. The Warriors visited the Heat in South Beach on December 12, and that game had an interesting end result. But I won't get into that just yet.
Miami is going to be on a mission entering Oracle Arena, all rebounding woes aside. They are the more experienced team, and will want to make a grand statement against the Warriors on the road.
That will be tough, given their being 8-9 away from home, but the Heat have proven to play well when the hungrier team. Against Golden State, this will be critical as they look to break out of their defensive funk and get back to playing like a championship-caliber team.
Time: Wednesday, January 16th, 10:30 p.m. EST
TV: ESPN, Sun Sports, CSN Bay HD
Records: Miami Heat (24-12) vs. Golden State Warriors (23-13)
Betting Line: Not available as of Tuesday, January 15, 1:36 p.m. EST
Injuries: Stephen Curry (knee, day-to-day), Andris Biedrins (groin, day-to-day), Andrew Bogut (ankle, out), Brandon Rush (knee, out), Shane Battier (hamstring, day-to-day), James Jones (personal, day-to-day)
Key Storyline: Can Heat Avenge Home Loss in Visit to Warriors?
The Heat last faced the Warriors on December 12, at American Airlines Arena. Needless to say, it was a great game.
The Warriors maintained pace with the defending champions from start to finish, winning in the final seconds thanks to a layup by rookie Draymond Green.
Aside from Green's clutch shot, the Warriors' balance and depth is what really won them the game. Second-year man Klay Thompson led the way with 27 points, while David Lee chipped in 22 of his own and also pulled down 14 rebounds. Even Jarrett Jack was able to score 20 points off the bench.
LeBron James had 31 points for Miami, but that was not enough. Golden State did an excellent job of exposing Miami's flaws, forcing 17 turnovers and out-rebounding the Heat 41-38.
Both teams are on slow streaks now, and will want the win badly. Golden State has the advantage in being a superior rebounding squad that has gone 12-5 at home, but Miami's championship experience cannot be counted out.
All of their struggles aside, the Heat are still one of the best teams in the NBA, and they need to assert that in Oakland if they are to avenge their earlier loss to the Warriors and get back on the winning track.
Key Matchup: Mario Chalmers vs. Stephen Curry
Though they have looked like an extremely balanced team this season, the Warriors are still primarily an offensive team. They like to run, and that makes having an effective point guard all the more important.
The team is blessed in having just that in Stephen Curry, who has been incredible this year after missing most of last season with an ankle injury. In 2012-13, Curry has posted 20.5 points, 6.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game, shooting 44 percent from the field and an incredible 46 percent from three-point land. He has been even better over his last five games, posting 23.2 points and 7.2 assists while making 55 percent of his threes.
Curry will need to be great in order for the Warriors to have a shot at defeating Miami again. He only had nine points and seven assists against the Heat on December 12, primarily because he had the pesky Mario Chalmers guarding him.
Chalmers is the exact opposite type of point guard that Curry is. Whereas the former Davidson Wildcat is a scoring point man that also plays great defense, Chalmers focuses solely on the defensive aspect of his game. Though he certainly can score points, his best work is as a pest.
As a result, though he has shot 40 percent from long range this season, Chalmers is averaging just 7.7 points and 3.5 assists. However, his 1.5 steals give the Heat a great defensive presence in the backcourt.
If Miami does want to win this game, Chalmers needs to be in full defensive mode. This means locking down Curry early, forcing him to take bad shots and distribute the ball to teammates who lack his shooting accuracy.
Offensively, Chalmers must also not be afraid to utilize his three-point shot. Another key to beating Golden State is to keep up with them on offense, and his long-range shooting can prove to be a big help to the team accomplishing that.
The problem is that Curry can shoot too, and Golden State has already proven that they can defeat Miami without him. This makes his matchup with Chalmers all the more critical, and thus more important for the fans to watch come game time.
X-Factor: Carl Landry
The Warriors' odds of winning increase if they can beat the Heat in rebounding, but they cannot rely solely on David Lee to carry them. Apart from him, they will need a solid outing from bench forward Carl Landry.
Landry has been great in Golden State's second unit this year, averaging 12.1 points and 6.5 rebounds over 25.3 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes, those numbers increase to 17.3 points and 9.2 boards.
What sets Landry apart from other bench players is that he refuses to be a mere filler for when the starters are having a rest. He enters each and every game with the mentality of a starter. He may not be considered the greatest, but he knows that his team cannot win unless he plays that way.
In rebounding, Landry can be a tremendous help in shutting down the Heat. He has good size at 6'9", 248 pounds, and goes after every rebound without hesitation. Sure, he may be a bit slow on his feet at times, but Landry's overall determination and desire to set himself apart makes him one of the most effective bench players in the league.
He'll need to do a better job of that this time around, as he had just four points and three rebounds in the Warriors' first game against Miami. To add insult to injury, all of his points came via free-throws.
Landry must do all he can to get to the line against Miami, but he must also find a way to get inside and make some high-percentage shots. If he misses those shots, he must go after the rebound and try again. On defense, he needs to be like a magnet to the ball.
The fact of the matter is that Golden State is in a prime position to dominate Miami on the inside yet again, but a weak effort from Landry takes away that advantage as well as a shot at victory.
The Heat may have been stunned by the Warriors in December, but a new day will dawn in January. In a high-scoring overtime thriller, Miami will come away with the close victory and head to face the Los Angeles Lakers with some momentum at their backs.
Stephen Curry will turn in a better offensive performance, leading the Warriors in scoring and assists. David Lee will have a double-double, and Klay Thompson will sink the game-tying shot that forces overtime.
Who will win?
Unfortunately for Golden State, all of their momentum will have run out by then. The Heat will take over in the extra frame thanks to a strong dual effort by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, with Ray Allen sinking some clutch threes along the way. Golden State will put up one hell of a fight, but it won't be enough as Miami comes away with a rare road win.
The victory won't be pretty by any means, but what overtime win is? The fact is that the Heat will win a tough game on the road and reestablish just why they are the defending NBA champions.
If this momentum can follow them for the next couple of weeks, then Miami will go from being an overrated contender to one that is not to be taken lightly come playoff time.
Miami Heat 115, Golden State Warriors 110, in overtime
All statistics are accurate as of Monday, January 14, 2013