Miami Heat at Houston Rockets: Full Preview and Prediction

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Miami Heat at Houston Rockets: Full Preview and Prediction
USA TODAY Sports

The two-time defending champion Miami Heat (43-14) will travel to play the Houston Rockets (40-19) for the second game of a back-to-back on Tuesday.

The March 4 showdown will be the first meeting between these two championship contenders in 2013-14. They’ll meet for the second and final time—barring an NBA Finals matchup—on March 16.

Both Houston and Miami have been playing extremely well of late. The Rockets have won 11 of their past 13 contests, while the Heat sport a league-best eight-game win streak.

Although Miami has been tremendous in the regular season once again, the team’s Achilles heel continues to be rebounding. The Heat rank dead last in that category by snatching just 36.8 boards per contest.

Houston, meanwhile, ranks sixth in the Association by collecting 45.3 rebounds per game. That’s thanks in large part to All-Star center Dwight Howard, who ranks fourth in the NBA by pulling down 12.5 boards on average.

As a result of the new acquisition, Kevin McHale’s crew has a distinct advantage over Miami on the interior—but that’s only if D12 is able to play. Both the big man and point guard Jeremy Lin sat out of practice Monday due to sore backs and are questionable to play against the Heat, per the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen:

Of course, even if Howard doesn’t play, the Rockets still have a quality backup center in Omer Asik, so Miami is facing a challenge regardless.

Will the Heat be able to overcome their biggest weakness while playing their second game in as many nights?

 

When: Tuesday, March 4, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Toyota Center, Houston, Texas

Watch: NBATV

 

Heat Injury Report (via CBS Sports)

No injuries reported

 

Rockets Injury Report (via CBS Sports)

C Dwight Howard, Questionable, Back

PG Jeremy Lin, Questionable, Back

SF Chandler Parsons, Probable, Illness

PF Greg Smith, Out, Knee

 

Heat Player to Watch: LeBron James

LeBron James posted some ridiculous numbers during the month of February—even compared to his lofty standards.

The four-time MVP averaged 30.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 2.7 steals per game while shooting 57.5 percent from the floor and 36.2 percent from beyond the arc.

As a result of his stellar play, the Heat finished the second month of the year with a 10-1 record.

“Defensively we’re flying around and we’re communicating,” James said of the win streak, per ESPN. “And offensively, obviously we’re playing at a high level.”

He's kept his MVP-caliber play going into March as well. He set a career-high against the Charlotte Bobcats by dropping 61 points. He made 8 of 10 threes and 22 of 33 shot attempts overall.

LBJ has been playing like a man possessed. Notching 41 minutes last night en route to a career-best scoring performance, however, may lead to significant fatigue against Houston.

Will he have enough left in the tank for the second game of a back-to-back?

 

Rockets Player to Watch: James Harden

Since Howard, Lin and Parsons are all dealing with various degrees of health problems, we’ll cover the spread by making James Harden the Rockets player to watch.

The bearded one continues to play at an exceptionally high level for Coach McHale. He’s coming off a 20-point, 12-assist, five-rebound effort in the March 1 win against the Detroit Pistons.

The 24-year-old has been attacking the basket with ruthless intensity this season, which has led to 450 free-throw attempts for him thus far—sixth-most in the Association.

If Harden can keep the pedal to the metal by being aggressive on offense and getting opponents into foul trouble, it will test a sure-to-be fatigued Miami team playing its second game in two nights.

Keep an eye on his turnover total, though, because Harden has a tendency to get a little careless with the ball—averaging 3.7 turnovers per contest.

 

Key Matchup: Dwyane Wade vs. James Harden

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Although King James may spend some quality time guarding Harden—he does tend to guard all five positions after all—the key matchup in this one is between the league’s two best shooting guards (at least in my opinion).

Providing D-Wade with scattered days of rest throughout the regular season has worked wonders for coach Erik Spoelstra’s 32-year-old star. While the Marquette product has missed 16 games in order to rest general soreness—including Monday night's affair against Charlotte—he’s scoring 19 points per game on a career-best 55.5 percent shooting.

As Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale wrote in February, Wade’s so called “decline” has been overblown. The three-time champion is still one of the best in the business when he’s out on the court.

As for Harden, he has a tendency to clam up when facing elite opponents. Against the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 20, the talented shooting guard finished with just 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting to go with five turnovers in a blowout 114-81 loss. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder later that month, he finished with eight points on 2-of-9 shooting.

It will be interesting to see how he responds when playing against another team that’s amongst the league’s elite.

(Underrated matchup: Chris Bosh vs. Terrence Jones.)

 

Prediction

While the Heat have been on a torrid streak of late, playing the second game of a back-to-back set is difficult regardless of the opponent. When facing off against an elite team like the Rockets? Now that’s a worthy challenge.

Which team will win?

Submit Vote vote to see results
It’s unclear whether the Rockets will be at full strength, considering that Howard and Lin are both questionable with back problems while Parsons is recuperating from illness. Nevertheless, Houston should be well rested after getting two days off in between games.

The Heat, meanwhile, played last night against the Bobcats. Wade will have fresh legs since he decided to sit out, but James put on an absolute show for the home fans and may experience a bit of a hangover from that transcendent performance.

I predict this one to be a hotly-contested affair that may even need five minutes of overtime, but ultimately the Rockets should be able to take advantage of the schedule by squeaking out a win on their home court.

Rockets 106—Heat 103

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