The six-game road trip started off well for the Miami Heat (35-13) with a frenetic win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Tonight, they face the Utah Jazz (16-33), a superstar-less team that currently sports the fourth-worst record in the NBA.
Miami has had problems during the “Big Three” era with sub-.500 teams, sometimes playing to the level of their competition. But the team has regained their focus and has win three consecutive games since an eye-opening loss to Oklahoma City. As LeBron James told reporters yesterday:
We’ve been playing some good basketball lately. We want to continue that. When we’ve got our full unit in there, we can do some special things. We’ve got 15 guys who can be ready if (Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra)Spo calls upon us. It’s great to have that now.
Miami is well rested and should be at full strength tonight.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Jazz, coming off a 103-81 blowout against the Dallas Mavericks on Friday, their fourth consecutive loss. Rookie guard Trey Burke has missed a number of games in his first NBA campaign but has recently flashed the athleticism (12.7 points, 5.6 assists and 3 rebounds per game) expected of a ninth overall draft selection. Utah is led by Gordon Hayward (16.5 PPG), the third-year guard who has been the subject of recent trade rumors. Inconsistent big man Derrick Favors has been battling a hip injury but did play against Dallas; his team-leading 9.2 RPG could be an issue for Miami’s frontcourt.
The telecast of this game begins at 9 P.M. on SunSports from the EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City. Check back with AllUCanHeat for a recap after the game.
The Big Three Questions for the Game:
What’s the Deal with Norris Cole?
Third-year man Norris Cole has had an up-and-down year. While showing great promise early this season, the “Cole Train” has derailed in 2014. Cole was brilliant in November and December, using pick-and-rolls to maximize his speed, shooting well from mid- and long-range, as well as putting himself in excellent positions for rebounds. But he’s shooting below 40% through January and February, and his jumper has been flat and inconsistent. He’s also been strangely foul-prone, a tendency he has never shown during his career. Jazz guards Burke and Alex Burks should test Norris all game; whether he rises to the challenge remains to be seen.
Who is the X-Factor for the Jazz?
Tough to answer that. They are struggling to find a clear identity and seem to be a negative version of the Heat; they lack direction and a clear leader on the floor. A combination of promising young players (Hayward, Favors, Burke) that have yet to take that next step towards super-stardom and aging veterans (Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams) that have never been considered floor generals in their careers. Let’s say the x-factor will Utah tiring of their losing ways and trying to prove themselves against the best team in the league.
What is the X-Factor for Miami?
As always, complacency. When engaged, Miami is the best team in the league and can easily defeat the likes of Indiana, San Antonio and other contenders. But when they lack focus, imminently-winnable games slip from their grasp. Tonight’s game represents the latter challenge. It’s clear Miami should win tonight but will they be able to maintain four quarters of intensity? Road trips often test the mettle of contending teams; I think Miami will be engaged and will make it a long, difficult night for the Jazz.