A Playoff Atmosphere
- This game is the second of a nationally televised ESPN double-header, features two prospective playoff teams, multiple All-Star level talents on both rosters, basketball’s best player, and will be played in front of an incensed Oracle Arena crowd. Take into account what happened when the Warriors stole a win in Miami on December 12th and the recent relative struggles of both squads, and this is poised to be one of the regular season’s best games. Look for LeBron James to be ultra-aggressive from the very beginning, attempting to set a tone for the Heat that will last through the remainder of their season-long – and to this point disappointing – road trip. Golden State, conversely, will fall to .500 in their last 10 games with a loss tonight before playing giants like San Antonio, the Los Angeles Clippers, and Oklahoma City in three of their next four. Both teams badly want a win on a stage like this one and need it to plug the holes in presently sinking ships. Miami, though, is all but guaranteed a top-two seed in the East even if their middling play continues a bit longer. The Warriors? They’d like to avoid a major midseason scare to all that hard-earned playoff optimism, and this marquee matchup against the defending champions is the perfect opportunity.
Lots of Offense
- Golden State, like every team in the league, lacks the personnel to keep Miami from piling up points in bunches. James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh are three of the best at their respective positions, and Erik Spoelstra has surrounded them with a versatile roster full of shooters. The Heat will be extra motivated after dropping three of their last four, too, so it’s unlikely the Warriors major defensive improvement will show on the scoreboard. Not that basketball fans everywhere will mind, because Golden State boasts the shooters and space-based offense that gives Miami’s defensive attack fits. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson will bomb away from deep all game long, and David Lee should pick apart the Heat’s aggressive tendencies via the high pick-and-roll. And if Miami goes small (Shane Battier is questionable), expect the Warriors to feast on the abilities of Lee and Carl Landry in the post. Stops will be at a premium in this one; like a month ago, what could decide the game is who gets them when it matters most in the fourth quarter.
More Draymond Green
- Golden State’s versatile rookie famously challenged James in the Warriors’ December 12th win before making a game-winning layup with .9 seconds remaining on the clock. Though there’s hardly bad blood here – James lauded the efforts of Green in postgame interviews – don’t for a second think LeBron has forgotten about Green’s surprising machismo. He’ll have ample opportunity to make Green pay for it, too, as the matchups indicate Golden State’s rookie will receive ample playing time. Green is arguably the Warriors’ best defender and played the defending MVP admirably in December, and also is the only player on Golden State’s roster able to seamlessly rotate between both forward spots. Against a position-less team like Miami, that’s a valuable, valuable trait, and one that means Green could see even more minutes tonight than the career-high 30 he did in the Warriors December win. Don’t expect another game-winner, but Green’s presence will surely be felt.
A Physical Chris Bosh
- The importance of this game for both teams can’t be stressed enough; it’s obvious, then, that every player will feel an extra sense of urgency. James will lead that overall charge for Miami, but this game is as good a litmus test for Bosh as the Heat could want. Miami’s C/F was benched for the majority of his team’s fourth quarter comeback against Utah on Monday and has come under recent scrutiny for his lack of production on the boards. Bosh has averaged just 3.5 rebounds per game in the Heat’s last four outings, and on the surface looks primed for a breakout tonight with the undersized Lee and Landry likely to makeup Golden State’s frontcourt for the game’s majority. But the Warriors are one of the league’s best defensive rebounding teams and pose a challenge for Bosh the casual fan won’t see coming. The Heat certainly do, though, and Spoelstra has no doubt put extra emphasis on his big man’s performance tonight. Whether Bosh delivers one worthy of his reputation as one of the sport’s best big men is anyone’s guess, but at the very least he’s likely to fail trying harder than ever.
Follow Jack Winter on Twitter @armstrongwinter.