This feels like the first year the Heat have really come into their own post-LeBron. With James departure last year, the Heat had to do a significant amount of retooling. That definitely happened, as the Heat added Goran Dragic and Luol Deng to their roster. Dragic joined the Heat mid-season though, so it never felt like the team got a real chance to gel.
At their peak, both Dragic and Deng were borderline All-Stars. In a sense, those two players split LeBron's responsibilities into two positions. Deng is the defensive anchor, as well as a skilled catch and shooter. Meanwhile, Dragic takes over distribution responsibilities. Dragic is also extremely effective at driving to the rim with a quick Eurostep.
But that's not the only reason I feel like this year's Heat team is better than last year's. The Heat did a fantastic job of identifying unknown quantities in 2014-15. Hassan Whiteside is the most notable success, emerging out of nowhere to become the NBA's best shot blocker this season. It wasn't out of complete nowhere, as Whiteside was a #7 pick back in 2012. But Whiteside had been out of the league for over a year, so to see him rise to such status was certainly surprising. Whiteside's function in Miami's offense is mainly as a pick and roll finisher and offensive rebounder.
The other big unknown quantity to emerge from Miami is Tyler Johnson. Johnson went undrafted in 2014, but fought his way through the D-League. Now, Johnson is an extremely efficient scorer off the bench. Johnson works well around screens and off the catch.
Lastly, I definitely can't ignore the additions of Gerald Green and Justise Winslow over the off-season. Green is an extremely streaky three point shooter and dunker with a fiery temper. (When Green played for the Suns last year, Steven Adams goaded Green into a technical foul.) Winslow was the Heat's lottery pick, and he's been promising so far. 7 points per game doesn't light the world on fire, and Winslow is terrible from three. But Winslow is shooting 51% on twos this year, and dunks with the best of them.
On the Thunder's side, things are alright, I suppose. OKC won three straight games upon KD's return, but are coming off of a loss to the Hawks on Monday. That Hawks loss came down to some poorly executed plays down the stretch, along with some poor interior defense from a Thunder smallball lineup. It was certainly difficult for the Thunder to match up with a floor spacing team like the Hawks, and I feel like OKC will have similar problems against Miami tonight.
Like LeBron's Heat, the 2015 Heat love to space the floor, get to the rim, and play a fairly slow pace. What separates these Heat from LeBron's Heat is defense. LeBron's Heat loved to force turnovers as their primary way of winning the ball. These Heat are mainly shot defenders. In terms of the entire NBA, the Heat force the second lowest effective shot percentage from their opponents. That means the Thunder's offense will definitely need some transition play to force easy baskets.
Really, tonight's game is going to come down to the Thunder's ability to force turnovers and guard the three point line. So far this season, OKC has been mediocre at each. But the Thunder still have a huge advantage with Luol Deng likely out, as that leaves Gerald Green to guard Kevin Durant. Not an ideal matchup, and one that could carry OKC to a victory here.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 97, Miami Heat 95.
What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!
|2015-16 NBA Season Game 19|
|December 3rd, 2015|
|AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami, Florida|
|6 PM Central Daylight Time|
|TV: Turner Network Television, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma|
|Injury Report: Amare Stoudemire (Questionable), Luol Deng (Doubtful)|
|Last Season's Matchups: Jan 20 (W 94-86), Mar 22 (W 93-75)|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Goran Dragic|
|Andre Roberson||SG||Dwayne Wade|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Gerald Green|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Chris Bosh|
|Steven Adams||C||Hassan Whiteside|