Time: 7:00 MDT
If we have learned anything about the Phoenix Suns this season, it’s that they play with the pedal to the metal every night. They don’t let up. They don’t ever relent. They sometimes run out of gas and sputter, but their feet never come off the pedal, and more often than not, their all-out effort overwhelms their opponent.
The Miami Heat are the exact opposite of that. The Heat do not bring it every night. Some games they are engaged and firing on all cylinders. When that happens, they can flat out destroy any team in the NBA. But some nights they are visibly coasting and not giving it their all. Now Miami is still good enough to win even when they’re coasting, but on nights where they aren’t going all out, any team in the league has the chance catch them sleeping and steal a win. Look at how Miami faired in their last two games.
Last Wednesday, the Heat went on the road to Los Angeles and knocked off a tough Clippers team who were missing Chris Paul, but got 43 points from Blake Griffin. Three days later, Miami visited Utah and lost by five. Dwyane Wade played in both games, so Miami’s go-to excuse did not come into play. The Jazz are only a half game up on Sacramento in the Western Conference cellar. There is really no conceivable set of circumstances where LeBron and Wade both play, and the Heat lose to Utah. Yet it happened.
The Suns are not the Jazz. The Suns have won 60% of their games this year, and don’t take nights off. With Goran Dragic playing as well as he is, and the team staring down the barrel of a seven day break, there is no reason to think the Suns cannot compete with the Heat and walk away with a home win. For more on how Phoenix can accomplish that feat, let’s ask three preview questions.
Can the Suns outrun the Heat?
Miami is on the third game of a week-long road trip, and facing a flight to the Bay Area tonight to take on Golden State tomorrow. The Suns have had a few days rest at home after their big win over the Warriors on Saturday. Though Miami is still tops in the league in offensive efficiency, they play a much slower pace than the Suns. Phoenix may look to push the pace even more than usual to set the Heat back on their heels and get them out of their game plan. The one thing the Suns must be weary of as they rack up the fast break points is that they get back on defense. LeBron and Wade are still the best two-man fast break in the league and a few run-out dunks could silence the home crowd and kill the Phoenix’s momentum. In order to ensure their transition defense is stout, the Suns will have to sacrifice offensive rebounding chances, but that’s a small price to pay to keep King James from adding to his highlight reel.
Will Phoenix attempt more free throws than three’s?
This question is just another way of asking if the Suns will continue to attack the paint. Gerald Green made eight shots from inside the three point line against the Warriors. Other than the Suns’ most recent drubbing of the Lakers, that was Green’s best performance from inside the arc of the year. That line is the perfect example of how the Suns are countering their opponents’ defensive strategies. The scouting report on the Suns says they are one of the best outside shooting teams in the league. Against the Warriors, Green and Frye took their games inside while Goran Dragic did the damage from deep. This reversal led to 40 points in the paint and a very nice win for Phoenix. This same mentality will serve Phoenix well against Miami. If the Suns continue to penetrate and earn trips to the charity stripe, their offense will be much more effective than if they simply settle for threes all game long.
Can Phoenix’s team defense limit Miami to just one big night?
Last time out, Phoenix allowed LeBron, Wade, and Ray Allen to combine for 73 points on 26-of-38 shooting. Though 35 of those points belonged to LeBron, that stat is still indicative of a poor defensive night for the entire team. P.J. Tucker is a great defender, but there’s only so much he can do against James. The rest of the team must play defense with focus and urgency if they want to knock off the reigning champs. The first key for the Suns is to keep Miami off the free throw line by staying out of foul trouble. Miami’s stars are great at getting to the line, and those free points are not something the Suns can afford to give away. The second key is to focus on Wade, Bosh, and Allen. LeBron is going to get his points, but if he doesn’t get help, the Heat aren’t going to win. If they can limit Miami to just one big night, Phoenix will give themselves an excellent chance for a win.
- Michael Beasley returns to Phoenix for the first time since the Suns released him this summer. It will be interesting to see how is received by the Phoenix fans.