In one of the Heat's biggest games of the season, Miami will host the LA Clippers tonight. It will be the second time these teams will face off as the Heat lost 107-100 at the Staples Center, back on November 14th.
In what seems to be a budding rivalry, a plethora of superstar names will go head-to-head in what will surely be a competitive game. One issue that looms, however, is the questionable status of Clippers players Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Chauncey Billups and Jamal Crawford. All four have missed considerable time with assorted injuries, yet all are listed as game-time decisions.
Yet for the sake of this analysis, the group will be regarded as available. Let's see how the two powerhouse teams rank against each other.
Mario Chalmers vs Clippers this season: 5 PTS, 3 AST, 2 STL, 3 TO, 5 PF, 40 FG% (2-of-5), 25 3P%(1-of-4).
As evidenced by the above stat-line, Chalmers had an underwhelming performance against the Clippers. His inconsistency is becoming customary, so whether or not his poor game is attributed to that, or Chris Paul's defense is questionable. Chalmers gave up back-to-back turnovers in the Heat's last game against LA, and couldn't keep in control against his opponent either. He committed five fouls in just 28 minutes; a total the Heat cannot afford tonight.
Chris Paul vs Heat this season: 16 PTS, 10 AST, 4 STL, 3 TO, 33 FG% (3-of-9), 75 3P% (3-of-4).
In unsurprising fashion, Paul was a catalyst in his team's offensive attack. His double-double was instrumental to their success, allowing the Clippers to shoot 48.6 percent against a Miami team that only allows an average of 43.8 percent. Paul also worked his way to the foul-line, making all seven of his attempts en route to a 16 point performance.
Yet, he did so in expert fashion; Paul scored 13 straight points in the last three-and-a-half minutes to secure LA's lead, putting them up by 11 heading into the fourth. Considering he outscored Miami 13-4 by his lonesome to enter the last period, it makes his scoring for this game remarkable.
The Heat will need to play much better defense on Paul. They have an advantage in that he will be returning from a bruised kneecap, that kept him out for nine games in a row. However, to hinge on the hope Paul will be rusty is not a solid defensive plan, and should switch LeBron James over to guard him.
Dwyane Wade vs Clippers this season: 6 PTS, 3 REB, 6 AST, 5 TO, 20 FG% (2-of-10).
This was a showcase of Wade's infuriating lack of effort when his offense is not working. While there are no true statistics to prove such an argument, regular Heat fans will be familiar with such situations. Seemingly, Wade's level of intensity drops when he is unable to score the ball. That isn't to say he's a one-way player or self-centered, but he doesn't carry the same level of energy when his game is off.
His 10 field goal attempts, and just two free-throw attempts, points to not only LA's solid defense, but Wade's lackadaisical effort. His plus-minus rating of minus-15 denotes the same glaring issue, which is something Miami cannot afford. In addition, making more than two field goals for the entire game is highly preferable.
The Heat need Wade to be on his game, as he is a central factor to their success. Going up against the Clippers' depleted backcourt should keep his play steady, however keep an eye on the Wade-Bledsoe match up. In the last contest, it produced this renowned highlight.
Willie Green vs Heat this season: 7 PTS, 2 REB, 2 AST, 33.3 FG% (2-of-6), 40 3P% (2-of-5).
Green had a solid game overall against Miami last year. He is in the starting lineup to shoot the ball, and knocking down two threes in 20 minutes of action is a job well done. Green is currently averaging 37 percent from beyond the arc, which is down from last season's 44.2 percent, yet ,nonetheless, remains accurate and the third most-accurate for his career.
The Heat are in the bottom fifteen teams in the league in terms of defending three-point shooters. Miami must do a better job against the Clippers, not only because of Green, but the rest of the long-range marksmen waiting on LA's bench.
LeBron James vs Clippers this season: 30 PTS, 5 REB, 7 AST, 4 TO, 52.1 FG% (12-of-23).
LeBron's performance against LA in November was stellar, leaving little room for improvement. He made five of his first seven shots in the first quarter, setting the tone for the Heat with dunks to open and close the period. His game-high 30 points kept Miami afloat for much of the game, before being pulled to the bench once victory was out of sight.
In typical James fashion, the 6'8" forward had an all-around solid game. The only true negatives would be attributed to his four turnovers and the misunderstandings on defense. Miami has a rotating, help-defense mentality at all times on the court, which makes them extremely difficult to score against. However, numerous times versus the Clippers, James would rotate away from his man to help, only for no-one to cover, and vice versa.
LA didn't shoot 47.6 percent from deep by chance, thus James and the Heat must do a better job of both standing pat on defense, and being aware of when to rotate.
Caron Butler vs Heat this season: 15 PTS, 2 REB, 45.4 FG% (5-of-11), 60 3P% (3-of-5).
Butler, a former Heat forward, had a solid output against the best player in the league. His high efficiency is indicative of the aforementioned defensive lapses of the Heat, which have since been remedied and settled.
That isn't to take anything away from Butler, as his ability to knock down open shots deserves due acknowledgement. He has made 74 total three-point field goals this season and is on track to surpass last season's career-high of 92.
Miami cannot leave Butler open on the wing, as he's shooting a remarkable 50 percent from the corner-three. The Heat are playing much better defensive basketball, so it will be interesting to see if they can clamp down on Butler and keep him under wraps.
Udonis Haslem vs Clippers this season: 3 PTS, 6 REB, 3 PF, 33.3 FG% (1-of-3), 20 MIN.
When the Heat visited Staples Center last November, Haslem still resided in a bench role. His status has risen to that of starting power forward, and will surely be a factor from the tip-off. Shane Battier was forced to guard Blake Griffin, which anybody can tell you is an insane mismatch.
Having the physical Haslem against Griffin will be a point of interest throughout the game. In the Clippers' victory this season, the 6'10" All-Star scored 20 points and snatched 14 rebounds in 30 minutes. When you compare Griffin's statistical output with Haslem on the floor, it's a very different story.
Per 36 minutes, Griffin put up 27.4 points and 18.7 rebounds against the Heat with Haslem on the bench. Insert the long-time Miami forward and Griffin's efficiency plummets to 7.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Having a bruising body like UD in the middle will be an enormous factor in containing Griffin tonight. Haslem doesn't need to score or put up spectacular numbers; just rebound the ball and defend the paint.
Blake Griffin vs Heat this season: 20 PTS, 14 REB, 6 AST, 50 FG% (8-of-16), 30 MIN.
Griffin was unstoppable in almost every category against the Heat defense. Almost registering a triple-double, his all-around play had the Clippers firing on all cylinders.
As aforementioned, Griffin had a distinct advantage matching up against Shane Battier at power forward. His ridiculous athleticism and ability to soar for rebounds tells the story for his 14 boards with four coming on the offensive glass.
Noted in the previous slide, the Heat are seemingly constant in terms of rotating on defense. Griffin's six assists are a direct result of this, as the entire Miami defense would collapse as soon as he dribbled in the paint. All the three-time All-Star had to do was kick the ball out to LA's perimeter shooters.
With Haslem, and now the addition of Chris Andersen, most likely defending Griffin, this match up will be pivotal in either team's chance at winning the game.
Chris Bosh vs Clippers this season: 11 PTS, 9 REB, 3 BLK, 4 PF, 23 FG% (3-of-13).
Looking solely at Chris Bosh's statistical output, you might consider he had an effective game. He almost reached a double-double, and swatted three shots, in just 30 minutes of play. Bosh picked up four fouls throughout the game and couldn't get into a rhythm offensively.
Bosh went just 1-of-7 from mid-range, shooting an abysmal 14 percent from an area he specializes in scoring from. The Heat's big man averages 52 percent from mid-range this season, so his poor accuracy at Staples was most surprising.
He was able to get to the line for five free-throw attempts, knocking down all of them to keep his 81 percent foul shooting solid. Bosh will need to be cautious defensively, but should be fine now that Miami has another competent big man to defend. Haslem, Chris Andersen and/or Joel Anthony will be called upon to contain Blake Griffin, so Bosh can relax and contain the one-dimensional DeAndre Jordan.
Bosh will need a big game for Miami to have any chance of succeeding, and he remains one of their most important pieces. Hitting his jump shots will keep the defense honest by keeping driving lanes open for LeBron and Wade.
DeAndre Jordan vs Heat this season: 8 PTS, 6 REB, 2 PF, 66.7 FG%.
Jordan is having a solid season for LA. His nightly nine points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks are a boost to their intensity and energy, despite it coming in a limited 24.8 minutes per game.
The athletic center played just 26 minutes against Miami while committing two fouls. He commits 2.5 fouls per game on average, which keeps him off the floor; something the Heat must focus on. Getting Jordan into foul trouble early should be a priority for Miami, as he gives the Clippers a distinct advantage on the glass.
If they are unable to do so, intentionally fouling Jordan as he tries to shoot anything should also be key. He's shooting at a dismal 42.9 clip from the free-throw line, which is highly preferred to his 60.2 field goal percentage.
Ray Allen vs Clippers this season: 14 PTS, 2 AST, 5 STL, 66.7 FG% (4-of-6), 50 3P% (1-of-2).
The Heat's new sixth man was highly effective offensively against the Clippers in November. He knocked down his shots, including a great pull-up three in transition. It was his only make from deep for the game; a factor Miami must focus on.
Allen is still one of the best shooters in the league, however, he is shooting an atrocious 13.6 percent this month. His 10 percent from beyond the arc is extremely troubling as Allen's livelihood is based on his ability to shoot the ball.
Getting him open shots against the Clippers' defense will be difficult, but it may be the spark Allen needs to find his stroke. Miami can always turn to the likes of Shane Battier or Mike Miller, yet having a combination of all three effectively shooting the ball is a situation not many oppositions can overcome.
Jamal Crawford vs Heat this season: 22 PTS, 1 AST, 6 TO, 63.6 FG% (7-of-11), 50 3P% (2-of-4), 24 MIN.
This year's favorite to take home the Sixth Man of the Year award, Jamal Crawford could not be contained by the Heat. His usual of percentages of 42.2 and 37 were way up against Miami, as his ability to create his own shot proved difficult to halt.
His infamous ball-handling against Ray Allen made him a YouTube sensation briefly, however it will be intriguing to see how Crawford returns from a shoulder injury. The Heat may have a point of advantage on that 6'5" guard if he will be returning on such a note.
Prior to missing Wednesday night's game against Orlando, Crawford was putting up 21.7 points and 4.7 assists on 44.2 percent shooting for the month. The Heat need to be active, and hopeful, that the shooting guard doesn't carry that scoring touch into tonight's game.
Both these teams have distinct advantages, and obvious weaknesses simultaneously. With the trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Miami will need each of them to be on their game if they wish to succeed.
The Heat do not have the luxury of the Clippers' deep and established bench, and must rely on their core players to pull out a victory.
LA is slightly overwhelmed, based purely on the fact that their best players are returning from mildly serious injury. Chris Paul will potentially see his first action since January 21st, and may or may not be a little rusty. However, being the best point guard in the league has its perks, and Paul should be absolutely fine if it comes down to simple adjustment. If his knee gives him trouble, it's a different story.
Blake Griffin's hamstring injury has kept him out of LA's last two games, and will surely affect his explosiveness. Once a big plus for the Clippers, it's a question-mark heading into tonight's game. Even if Griffin can participate, it will be interesting to see if he can play at 100 percent.
Either way, this Miami-Los Angeles game should be highly entertaining. Full of big names and high-flyers, it is a date circled on many calendars. The outcome could go either way, but it's clear the Heat are a step ahead of the Clippers for the aforementioned reasons.
All statistics sourced from nba.com/stats .