Game Details: American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL. 4:30 PM. TV: NBA TV. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM).
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6’3″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’8″, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11″, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6’11″, UMass)
Projected Miami Starting Lineup: PG Mario Chalmers (#15, 6’2″, Kansas), SG Dwyane Wade (#3, 6’4″, Marquette), SF LeBron James (#6, 6’8″, St. Vincent-St. Mary’s), PF Chris Bosh (#1, 6’11”, Georgia Tech), C Erick Dampier (#25, 6’11”, Mississippi State)
Another week of the season, another set of controversies surrounding the Miami Heat. This time, after four straight losses to playoff teams, it was reported that several of their players were crying in the locker room. Given that the Heat are unquestionably this season’s new villain, most of the NBA blogosphere has taken great pleasure in ridiculing this not-so-super-at-the-moment “superteam.”
Which is why the Blazers should be extremely worried tonight. Everybody is jumping on the Heat, saying they don’t have what it takes to get it done late in games, that they don’t have a clear leader, that this summer’s free-agency coup had the effect of torpedoing their depth in service of their three nine-figure contracts.
Despite all of that, the Heat have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on their roster. Those guys are pretty good basketball players.
Not only that, but if you think they haven’t taken (if you will) mental notes of everything that’s been said about them recently, you’re crazy. If the Blazers caught a monster break yesterday with Dwight Howard serving a suspension, they’re catching whatever the opposite of a break is tonight, facing a team with two of the five most talented players in the world, who already have an enormous target on their backs, at the height of this latest wave of backlash. Simply put, the Heat will be in total eff-you mode tonight. And that’s never a good thing for opponents.
The Blazers played the Heat close in January, leading late and being taken to overtime, losing only when LeBron decided to take over and win the game singlehandedly. He does that. And the scary thing is, he only broke out at the end of the game. I could point to Nicolas Batum’s solid defense on James in that game as a sign that the Blazers may be able to compete tonight, but I won’t. Portland has plenty of good defenders—Batum, Gerald Wallace, Wesley Matthews, Marcus Camby—but it’s foolish to bank on ever being able to stop James and Wade. LaMarcus Aldridge outplayed Chris Bosh considerably last time out, but if the other two prongs of Miami’s big-three attack are on fire, that’s small consolation.
Outside of the big three, the Heat’s roster is nothing to write home about. They fall into one of three categories: washed-up veterans without much left in the tank (Mike Bibby, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Erick Dampier), underperforming shooters (Mike Miller, James Jones), or more-or-less total scrubs (Joel Anthony, Mario Chalmers). That would be encouraging for the Blazers if it weren’t for the fact that, again, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are on this team. That’s kind of the theme.
The Blazers will have to be at the absolute top of their game for 48 minutes to pull out a win tonight, and even that may not be enough. Anything less than that—in other words, how they’ve played the last few nights at times—will likely result in a blowout.