Miami Heat Face Suns, As Dragic Returns to Phoenix


Game preview for the Miami Heat vs the Phoenix Suns.

Heat (21-14) vs Phoenix Suns (13-25)
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona
When: Friday, Jan. 8, 9:30 PM ET
Watch: FS-AZ, FS-SUN, NBA League Pass

The Miami Heat begin their journey on the Trip of Death, as they first travel to Phoenix for a matchup with the Suns. The Heat stumble into their road-trip after a disappointing loss at home to the New York Knicks, a game that saw the Knicks make shots from wherever they pleased, no matter what obstacle was in their path. The loss ended a three-game winning streak, but also continues the trend of not being able to extend win streaks past three games. Miami is now tied for first in the Southeast with the Atlanta Hawks, and sit tied for third in the East.

As for the Suns, they just ended a nine-game losing streak by defeating the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night.

Hopes were high in the Valley of the Sun before the season, as Phoenix brought in free agent Tyson Chandler to help anchor their defense, while Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, and Markieff Morris were set to pace the offense. Unfortunately the wheels have fallen off the wagon, as Bledsoe is lost for the season with a torn meniscus in his knee, and Morris has been nothing more than a distraction as he has been a frequent guest to the DNP-CD distinction, and a divorce between both parties looks to be the only solution. Still, the Suns sit three and a half games behind the eighth spot in a down Western Conference, so not all hope is completely lost.

Friday’s game also marks the return to the desert for Goran Dragic and Gerald Green for the first time as visiting players, as both left Phoenix for more breezy pastures in Miami. Green’s departure was more innocent, as he chose to sign a veteran minimum contract to play for the Heat.

The case is far different for Dragic, who, as you may remember, had a very public plea to leave Phoenix before last season’s trade deadline, stating that he had no interest in re-signing with the Suns during the offseason. He listed the Heat as one of his preferred teams and a deadline deal was completed. Dragic also had some choice comments about the Suns earlier in the week, questioning the loyalty of their front office. This might be in reference to the signing of then-point guard Isaiah Thomas to pair with himself and Bledsoe, adding another ball-dominant point guard to a crowded backcourt. The lack of loyalty also reared its ugly head this offseason, as the Suns traded Marcus Morris – Markieff’s twin brother – to create cap space for a failed run at LaMarcus Aldridge. This has led to some of the acrimony between Markieff and the Suns.

Whether the statements are true or not, Dragic may not get a warm welcome when he hits the court in Phoenix.

Matchup to Watch: Goran Dragic vs. Brandon Knight

When the Dragic drama went down, one of the bizarre corresponding moves was the Suns trading Thomas, and the juicy 2016 Lakers first round pick (top three protected), in a three-team deal with the Bucks and Sixers to acquire Knight from Milwaukee. Thomas is on a very team friendly deal ($6 million per year), and that Lakers pick could cash out like a Powerball ticket if the Lakers manage to get to the fourth spot of the draft, were dealt for Knight, who could have been an All-Star last season and is playing at similar levels this season, had to be signed to a five year, $70 million during the summer to justify the trade.

Now the point guard matchup takes the spotlight, as Dragic’s homecoming will probably see him take a more aggressive role in the offense in hopes of starting the road-trip off on a good note. Meanwhile stopping Knight will be important to stopping the Suns attack, as he’s shooting just 40.7% from the field since Bledsoe has been out, with Phoenix losing five of those six games. Take Knight out and the Heat improve their chances of taking the Suns out.

X-Factor: Gerald Green

The other player celebrating a homecoming should also play a big role in Friday’s game, as Green’s production usually goes a long win to the Heat’s success. In Miami’s 21 wins, Green is averaging 12.6 points per game, on 45.9% shooting from the floor. In the Heat’s 14 losses? How about 9.2 points, on 34.2% shooting. Getting Green in a rhythm early and often will greatly improve Miami’s chances.

Key Stats: 30%

The Heat are 11-5 when Dwyane Wade has a Usage percentage under 30%, and 10-9 when it’s over that mark. Basically when there’s more balance for the Heat offense, the better their chances are. Not to say Wade is a problem, but more of Dragic trying to help take pressure off of him and Chris Bosh. When all three are clicking, Miami is difficult to beat.