Miami suffered a disappointing loss at home on Monday, going down 109-111 to the Orlando Magic. Hassan Whiteside put in a solid performance with 19 points and 14 rebounds while Josh Richardson had 20 points. The loss was their fourth in a row, and this losing streak has seen them tumble from fourth to seventh in the Eastern Conference standings with a 29-25 record.
On Wednesday, they will face a red hot Rockets team coming off a 123-113 win against Brooklyn. James Harden had a customary 36 points while Chris Paul produced 25 points and five assists. The win was their fifth in a row and left them with a record of 39-13. The Rockets remain in second place in the west, now just one game behind the Warriors.
Three keys to the game
The stripe - Houston are one of the best teams in the league at getting to the free throw line, thanks largely to Harden. They average 25.5 attempts per game, second only to the Hornets. In contrast, the Heat journey there just 19 times a game, the fourth least in the league.
Will Whiteside contribute? - Considering they are paying him over $22 million per year, the Heat would be keen to get more out of Whiteside. Sometimes he’s great, but other games he contributes little. In his past nine games, he has scored 19 or more points on four occasions, while in the other five he has failed to pass ten points. The energy he brings seems to change from night to night, and they will need a big effort from him in this one.
Can the Heat stop the Beard? - Harden has been a thorn in the side of Miami in recent matchups. In the last four matchups between these two teams, he has averaged, 33 points and just a tick under 11 assists. If he can bring a similar performance to this game, the Heat may struggle to get near the Rockets.
Matchup to watch
Goran Dragic vs Chris Paul - A couple of experienced, steady players will anchor their respective teams from the point guard position in this game. Dragic was given an All-Star position after half of Team LeBron went down with injury, a reward for a steady season in which he averages 17.1 points on 43.8% shooting, 4.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists. Paul’s numbers are a little better; he is putting up 19.2 points on 46% shooting, including 40.8% from beyond the arc, dishing out 8.5 assists, and grabbing 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals.
Miami Heat predicted starting lineup
PG - Goran Dragic | SG - Josh Richardson | SF - Justise Winslow | PF - Kelly Olynyk | C - Hassan Whiteside
Houston Rockets predicted starting lineup
PG - Chris Paul | SG - James Harden | SF - Trevor Ariza | PF - Ryan Anderson | C - Clint Capela
In 17 career games against the Heat, Harden has shot 44.8% from the field on his way to 22.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.3 steals.
Paul is just holding on to a career double-double in his 22 outings against Miami. In these games, he shoots 45.1% from the field and 42.9% from 3-point range to score 17.4 points, while dishing out 10.1 assists. He also grabs a huge 2.2 steals per night, and 4.5 boards.
Miami have been given just a 4.5-point head start against the Rockets, and this is not likely to be enough. Houston have won all of their past five games and nine of their past ten by more than this margin, and the Heat won’t have enough to stop them continuing the trend. Take Houston at the line.
Houston should be too strong, even on the road and on the second leg of a back-to-back. Dragic may be an All-Star, but he will also be the third best point guard on the floor, and his 17 points and four assists won’t cut it against a Rockets backcourt which will combine for 50+ points and 20+ assists.
Whiteside is the X-factor for the Heat. If he can bring a huge game, which he is capable of, it will give them a significantly better chance of winning. He won’t be able to do enough though, and the Heat will go down, but they will go down swinging. This will be close for much of the game, with Houston pulling away in the fourth to win 113-104.
The game will be broadcast locally on Fox Sports Sun and ATTSN-SW.