Miami Heat's Schedule Breakdown and Record Predictions for January 2015
The Miami Heat enter January playing their worst basketball of the season.
Miami now finds itself just 14-19 on the season and barely hanging onto the No. 8 seed in the dreadful Eastern Conference. The pressure is on the Heat to start putting together some wins, or they could find themselves on the outside looking in for the postseason.
Unfortunately for Miami, that won't be easy to do. Six of its first eight games in January come against teams that are in line to make the playoffs.
The first month of 2015 presents an enormous challenge for the Heat, and it'll be interesting to see how they perform in such a desperate time.
Week 1: Jan. 1-7
Game of the Week: at Houston Rockets
The Heat open up the new year against a formidable Rockets squad in Houston on Saturday.
The Rockets easily dispatched Miami 108-91 in November, and that when the Heat were playing well. There's no doubt a struggling Miami team enters this contest as a massive underdog.
Houston provides a tough matchup for Miami. It shoots more threes than any team in the league on a per-game basis, while the Heat rank just 25th in opponent three-point shooting efficiency. Also, Miami's lack of size is one of its biggest issues, and the Rockets have a guy named Dwight Howard.
To win this game, the Heat must clamp down on the defensive end—something they've rarely done this season—and hope their offense can muster up enough points against a stout Rockets defense to win in a low-scoring affair.
Miami will follow this game up against the Brooklyn Nets at the AmericanAirlines Arena the very next night. The Nets will enter this one having won three in a row, which includes an impressive 14-point victory over the Chicago Bulls.
Now, the Heat have had Brooklyn's number this season, winning in each of their two prior matchups (both in Brooklyn). Miami has had little trouble slowing down a weak Nets offense that ranks 24th in points per possession, which bodes well for a Heat team that's struggled to defend going into this game.
Still, the Nets defend relatively well (No. 13 defensive rank) and are the much hotter team; the Heat will have their hands full.
Week 2: Jan. 8-14
Game of the Week: at Golden State Warriors
The Heat are in store for a rocky second week.
Miami will face the No. 1 (Warriors), No. 2 (Trail Blazers) and No. 6 (Clippers) teams in a dominant Western Conference on the road. It's worth noting the Heat have just four wins over teams that have an above .500 record this season.
For Miami's sake, the most interesting opponent of that bunch is Golden State.
It's not a surprise the Warriors have the best record in the league: They do just about everything well, as they rank fifth in points scored per possession and first in points allowed per possession.
The last time these two teams faced off (Nov. 25), Miami couldn't do anything against the Warriors' defense down the stretch (11 fourth-quarter points) and had no answer for Stephen Curry and Golden State's outstanding shooters (Warriors shot 13-of-28 from three).
Miami will have to play its A-game (and then some) to have a shot at beating Golden State on the road.
If the Heat are to get a win against a team other than the lowly Lakers this week, it will likely come against the Clippers. Portland is similar to Golden State in that it is an incredibly balanced team (No. 9 offensive rating, No. 2 defensive rating). However, the Clippers are only league average at defense (No. 15). Still, Los Angeles is 14-4 at home and has a clear talent advantage over the Heat, so a win is unlikely.
Predictions: 1-3 (win vs. Lakers)
Week 3: Jan. 15-21
Game of the Week: vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook is playing the best basketball of his career, while Durant is playing at his typical elite level. Together, they make Oklahoma City one of the scariest teams in the league right now.
As incredible as Durant is, Westbrook might be the Heat's biggest concern heading into this game. Miami doesn't have anyone capable of containing the Thunder's explosive point guard.
With Oklahoma City ranking eighth in defensive rating despite all its injuries suffered this year and having an offense that's rounding into form, the Heat are likely to suffer yet another loss to a top team in this one.
But Miami's other two games this week are winnable. Sacramento has lost nine of its last 12 games and has a terrible defense (No. 25 defensive rating). The Kings have trouble defending at the rim, so if the Heat can be aggressive and attack the teeth of Sacramento's defense, they can come away with a win.
As for the Hornets, they might not have an anemic defense, but they are abysmal offensively (No. 29 offensive rating).
As we've talked about, the Heat have trouble defending three-point shooters and shots at the rim. Fortunately for them, the Hornets shoot just 31.7 percent from beyond the arc and severely lack an inside threat, since Al Jefferson is sidelined with a groin injury.
Miami doesn't have many games in January that it should be expected to win, but this one against Charlotte is among the few.
Predictions: 2-1 (wins vs. Kings and Hornets)
Week 4 and Week 5: Jan. 22-31
Game of the Week: vs. Indiana Pacers
It might seem strange that the Pacers earn Game of the Week status in a week when the Heat face the Bulls, but Indiana is a threat to Miami right now.
The Pacers trail the Heat by 1.5 games for the eighth seed in the East. And if Miami is going to make the playoffs, it's going to have to beat the teams nipping at its heels.
Indiana doesn't have much talent at all, but it is 2-0 against the Heat this year for two reasons: excellent team defense (No. 6 defensive rating) and size. Miami is going to need its offensive stars to step up in this one.
After facing the Pacers, the Heat have a challenging three-game stretch to close out the month.
Chicago is an all-around bad matchup for Miami, given its size, defensive strength and many offensive weapons. The Heat have little chance of taking the Bulls down on the road.
While the Bucks aren't a particularly scary team, they have a better record than Miami (17-17) and are 2-0 against the Heat this year. Milwaukee has a good defense (No. 9 defensive rating) and has held the Heat to just 169 points in the two matchups between them. Still, I expect the Bucks' lack of offensive firepower and the Heat's talent advantage to finally be enough for Miami to earn a win.
The Heat's final game of January comes against a 24-10 Mavericks team. While Miami beat Dallas in November, the Heat are playing at a much worse level now than they were then, and the Mavericks didn't have Rajon Rondo either. Dallas simply has too much offensive firepower (No. 2 offensive rating) for the Heat's below-average defense to stop, so count on a Mavs win.
Predictions: 2-2 (wins vs. Pacers and Bucks)
After tallying up our predictions, the Heat end up with a 5-8 record in January.
Surely, Miami doesn't want to follow up its disastrous December with another sub.-500 month, but the Heat are playing bad basketball right now and have a brutal schedule in January, making it difficult to project anything but that.
The Heat simply want to survive a difficult month like this and hang onto the No. 8 seed in the East. Beating teams like the Warriors and Trail Blazers isn't nearly as important for Miami as beating teams like the Bucks and Pacers.
If the Heat can win the majority of those in-conference games against fellow bubble teams, it would be hard to look at this month as a total failure, even if the overall month record is below. 500.
Note: All stats from Basketball Reference.