Some wins just feel better than others, and the Miami Heat’s 101-92 victory over the Atlanta Hawks was certainly a big relief for fans and probably players. After all, a two-game losing streak isn’t something to get in worried about, but this team should be steamrolling, not just getting by. Despite a strong game by Josh Smith (20 points, six assists, three boards) and Al Horford (20 points, 10 boards) the Heat weathered the storm behind Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, just like old times.
Wade has had a couple vintage virtuoso performances the last couple games, scoring 26 in the last two games and missing a combined five shots. Everyone is saying he’s lost something, but he’s playing like the Heat need him to and taking that back seat when he has to in order to keep Bosh involved, which is what a teammate does. Norris Cole played strong off the bench, scoring 10 points and not missing a shot, though he committed five fouls and turned the ball over twice against five fouls. He and Mario Chalmers have to be better in the point guard role, they combined for 14 points and eight assists with four turnovers. Decent, but not good enough.
Now the Golden State Warriors come to town, always a fun time. The Warriors under Don Nelson were a team of extremes, perennially at or near the top of the league in offense and damn near dead last in defense. They were a blast to watch though, and typically a match-up nightmare for opposing coaches.
Mark Jackson has brought in a new world of all-around basketball to Oakland though, and with his teachings of “Hand Down, Man Down” and “letting that man go, momma”, they’ve moved to the middle of the pack, 12th in offensive efficiency at 105.3 points per 100 possessions, and 14th in defensive efficiency at 104.3. All this with center and defensive anchor (according to NBA 2K13) Andrew Bogut sidelined indefinitely with an ankle problem. This new, trying on both ends type of ball seems to be working for them, the Warriors are 14-7 on the year and 8-2 in their last ten games, sitting at second in the Pacific Division.
They’re a young team with a good amount of potential and Coach Jackson has them working towards maximizing that potential. The Warriors aren’t title contenders yet, but give it a few years and they could be a behemoth.
Who to watch for: The Golden State offense begins with Stephen Curry. Despite a handful of strange ankle problems that have affected Curry in his first couple years, the young point guard is a young boss when he’s on the floor. Averaging 20 points and 6.5 assists this year, he’s shooting 43% from the field and 43% from 3-point distance. Curry is one of the smartest players in the game, using crafty footwork and a high basketball I.Q. to make up for what scouts thought would be an inferior NBA body. Scouts can sound so weird sometimes.
Curry’s running mates (not that they run so much anymore) include David Lee, who despite some maligning of his max contract he received two years ago continues to give 20+ points and 10+ rebounds like clockwork. Doesn’t matter what else is going on in the game, you can pencil Lee in for 20-10, and a whole lot of hustle in between. Why the Bulls went after Carlos Boozer over Lee is a mystery – he’d have been perfect. Lee is underrated and will bury you if you don’t guard him. Luckily, LeBron James exists.
Along with Lee is the intriguing Harrison Barnes. I admit to being enamored with Barnes when he was at North Carolina, his game is just so smooth and effortless yet powerful I think he could be a great player in a year or two. Right now he’s shooting 43%/32%/68% with less than five boards a game, but watching him out there is just so nice.
He has the tools to succeed and can get hot (every time he’s played more than 35 minutes he’s shot over 50%, don’t know if this is a correlation =/= causation thing or not) so even if he won’t win the game for the Warriors he can make some noise if you don’t pay attention. The wiles of Blue Devil Shane Battier will be on full display against this young man.
What happened last time: An overtime loss, Golden State winning 111-105. Miami scored 12 points in the fourth quarter and took what would be the first of three frustrating losses on a Western swing. The Warriors still had Monta Ellis and Curry was out with an ankle injury, and David Lee (surprise!) dropped 20-14 on the Heat. Ellis scored 22 on 9-of-25 shooting, and Nate Robinson, in one of the best environments ever for a player like him, had 24 off the bench after making all 14 of his free throws. Dorell Wright had the “Role Player’s Huge Game” game of the evening, 20 points on 6-of-11 3-point shooting.
Wade was the game’s leading scorer with 34 points on 23 shots, LeBron added 26 with 11 boards and seven assists, and nobody on the bench showed up. Udonis Haslem did have nine points to lead the reserves along with 10 rebounds, because that’s how Udonis do.
Why the Heat will win: Without Andrew Bogut the Warriors are lacking in size on the front line, and along with that have a lot of youth on the floor which will be handled by the veteran wiles of Miami. Seriously, Battier should eat Barnes’ lunch, and we’re not even counting if they bring college rivalries into this. The game is in Miami and LeBron and Wade have been playing out of their minds the last couple games. They apparently see the need to lead by example to drag this team out of the doldrums, so we should see more assault of the rim by them.
Why the Heat will lose: Stephen Curry has a night and isn’t bothered by the two-headed defensive monster of Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers, scoring 35 and dishing 15. David Lee goes crazy and keeps Bosh off his game with an uncommonly intense defensive effort with a 30 point outburst. Maybe some of the bench for Miami take the night off, and Harrison Barnes carries the pride of the Tarheels in a personal battle against Shane Battier to carry the day.
Prediction: Heat 111, Golden State 100. It will get intense in the third with some hot shooting, but the Heat defense make a rare arrival and clamp down in the fourth to seal the victory.