Heat’s Road Trip Enters the Valley of the Sun(s)


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One up, one down. That’s Miami’s record thus far on the six-game road trip that continues against the Phoenix Suns (30-20) on Tuesday night. The Heat (35-14) came out flat Saturday against Utah, shooting woefully and allowing the Jazz to build a big first-half lead. While Miami came back and make a game of it, LeBron James was limited to 13 points and their team defense was simply incapable of stopping Utah down the stretch. That trend must be reversed if they have any hope of winning in Phoenix. The Suns have achieved surprising success but, at past the halfway point of this season, it’s time to recognize them for being a very dangerous team. They’re young, athletic and are prolific scorers, good for fifth-best in the NBA at 105 points per game. While much of the credit goes to new head coach Jeff Hornacek, it’s the players on the court that have made the transition from last year’s cellar-dwellers to legitimate playoff contenders a remarkable one. It starts at the point guard position – despite losing the talented Eric Gordon to injury, Goran Dragic leads the team at 20.4 points and 6.1 assists per game. His game (drawing comparisons to ex-Suns MVP Steve Nash) incorporates a great stop-and-go dribble along with excellent shooting from mid- and long-range. Channing Frye (at 30, the team’s veteran presence) can still use his length deceptively and shoots it well (40%) from beyond the arc. Miles Plumlee, the man in the middle at 6’11”, is a high-energy rebounder (8.6 per game) that will challenge Miami’s frontcourt all night. And twins Markieff and Marcus Morris provide a dual-scoring threat off the bench, combining for nearly 27 points per game. The telecast of this game begins at 9 P.M. on SunSports from the U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix. Check back with AllUCanHeat for a recap after the game. The Big Three Questions for the Game: How Will LeBron Respond? I’d expect a big game from him. He was simply outplayed in Utah by Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson, an inconceivable thought at this point LeBron’s career. But he shot 4-of-13, well off his season average, and was particularly turnover-prone when attempting to run the fast break. Chalk it up to a bad game, as even the best certainly have them once in a while. James will be guarded by the Suns’ P.J. Tucker, who is undersized at 6’6” but takes these types of defensive challenges seriously. Look for LeBron to draw Tucker into foul trouble early and work his way to the hoop. Who is the X-Factor for Miami? Dwyane Wade. The Heat play a back-to-back on Wednesday against Golden State, another fast-paced, high-scoring team. While Wade has played efficiently of late, will he revert to the maintenance program that’s been in place all season? As of this point, he’s expected to play but he could very well sit out the Phoenix game and play the Warriors on national television. Stay tuned. Who Wins It? Don’t ask me! I’ve been terrible at predicting these things, in all honestly. I expected Miami to blow out Utah after a long rest and instead they came out flat. The obvious answer is that the Heat should look to exact revenge after the Jazz loss and that they’ll be able to take advantage of the Suns’ general youth and inexperience. But Phoenix is simply great at scoring and Miami must play at their best defensively. It should be a high-scoring affair. My final prediction? A good game that Miami pulls out in the end.