Preview: Miami Heat (7-3) at Phoenix Suns (4-6)

Miami Heat 97, Phoenix Suns 88



Firepower is not something to associate with the Phoenix Suns this season. Although they rank seventh in the NBA in scoring offense, pace has something to do with it.

Though this version of the Suns rebounds better than most Phoenix teams in recent memory, it hasn’t yielded wins. And as much as Elston Turner’s defense has looked good in flashes, Phoenix is simply not putting up good efforts for more than a quarter at a time.

Such is the reason the Suns face the Miami Heat Saturday night at US Airways Center with a probable chance LeBron James and company will roll over them.

The Heat lead the NBA in scoring at 104.2 points per game, and the Suns’ first meeting with Miami told the whole tale. Miami won 124-99, and it was a defense leaking like a sieve that allowed for the deficit. The Suns allowed 55 percent shooting and an abysmal 58 percent from three-point land. It was the best recipe for disaster the Suns could bake up against the Heat.

Phoenix currently is ranked 29th in the NBA in both defensive efficiency and points allowed per game, but nothing has hurt more than the indescribable gaps in an already problematic defense.

Against Los Angeles Friday night, Luis Scola continued giving the answers that, understandably, sound like a broken record.

“We played well and then they ran away in the fourth and we couldn’t catch them,” Scola told Paul Coro. “We have encouraging moments every game, but we always have the same problem. We gave up a spurt when they outplayed us and got up 10. We’re playing on the road against a great team. That’s hard.”

And when firepower is lacking, falling behind against good teams has thus far ended in lopsided losses.

Even when the Suns shot 49 percent from the floor — not shabby by any means — against Los Angeles and got more shot attempts than the Lakers, trading buckets didn’t make up for a few minutes when the game broke open. Against the offensively challenged Cavaliers and the Bulls, Phoenix proved it had the will to come back. But the Suns don’t have the talent to win with hot shooting.

Until they learn that, beating elite-level squads won’t happen.

Three keys for Phoenix

Defend the pick-and-roll. Miami made fools out of Phoenix in the teams’ first meeting, shredding the Suns with pick-and-rolls that got the bigs out of position. Those pick-and-rolls ended in layups on poor rotations or threes when the rotations weren’t followed by more rotations. And while this is way easier said than done, that leads to the next key …

Submit to the matchups. The Heat can make most NBA teams look bad thanks to matchups. Chris Bosh is playing center, LeBron can pick anyone apart, and even with good defense Miami’s three-point shooting makes the team impossible to defend. Still, Alvin Gentry might have more success by playing small ball with the Heat. A player like P.J. Tucker can do a decent job rebounding while having the speed and effort to challenge shots on and off the ball. Simply put, Phoenix struggled last time out with a slow-footed frontline of Marcin Gortat, Luis Scola and Michael Beasley. Going small will help close out on shooters and aid in defending a nasty pick-and-roll offense.

Get to the foul line. Phoenix likes to run, but it’s not going to win an up-and-down game with Miami. The Suns must attack the rim and draw contact to get to the foul stripe. Last night, the Lakers took 28 free throws to Phoenix’s 15 (making only seven of those is another problem altogether). If the Suns can get easy points and keep the game in the halfcourt, scrapping it out is the only way they’ll have a shot at pulling the upset.

Google+ hangout after the game

Join the ValleyoftheSuns crew after the Miami game to delve into the Suns’ season thus far, the Heat game specifically, and Mike D’Antoni’s offense with the Los Angeles Lakers.

LeBron to play, Wade out

Dwyane Wade will sit tonight out due to a sprained foot, but LeBron James will be active despite missing Saturday morning’s shootaround because of illness. James tweeted Friday night that he had a headache and the stomach flu.

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