Miami Heat, Portland Trail Blazers square off as playoff implications mount

Dec 20, 2015; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat guard Gerald Green (14) dribbles the ball as Portland Trailblazer guard C.J. McCollum (3) defends at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Duyos-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 20, 2015; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat guard Gerald Green (14) dribbles the ball as Portland Trailblazer guard C.J. McCollum (3) defends at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Duyos-USA TODAY Sports /

Game preview: Miami Heat at Portland Trail Blazers

Heat (43-31) @ Blazers (40-36)
Where: Moda Center, Portland, Oregon
When: Saturday, April 2nd 10:00 PM ET
Watch: FS-SUN, NBA League Pass

Friday night made the Miami Heat and their fans more anxious than it should have. In a game where the Sacramento Kings were without Demarcus Cousins and the Heat held a 24-point lead at one point, the Kings mounted a huge comeback and almost stole a game from Miami.

Yes, the Heat were without Wade in this game, but that is not a valid excuse when they are facing a team that might be one of the worst run organizations in professional sports (shout out to the Miami Marlins for being in the running for that), especially when they held a 16-point halftime lead and extended it to 24 points at one point in the third quarter.

The Kings, however, led by Darren Collison refused to go away and made the Heat work in what should have been a relaxing fourth quarter for their starters. A late 3-pointer by Luol Deng finally put the final nail in the coffin for the Kings.

We can argue all day that a win is a win, especially with Wade not playing, because the Heat did move into third place in the Eastern Conference with the win and can clinch a playoff spot with a win or a Chicago Bulls loss on Saturday night.

However, the win is also going to come with consequences for the Heat, as they prepare to take on the Portland Trail Blazers tonight, the second game of a back-to-back for the Heat, on an exhausting west coast trip.

Joe Johnson played 36+ minutes last night, Deng played 34, Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow, and Hassan Whiteside all clocked in at 30 minutes, with Dragic being under the weather of late.

With Wade unlikely to play tonight, an extra quarter of rest could come back and haunt the Heat, as they take on a Blazers team that is likely better than their record indicates and one that is currently fighting for their lives for playoff positioning, much like Miami.

The Heat barely beating the Kings comes 48 hours after the Los Angeles Lakers pulled off a major home upset, taking down the Heat in an overtime game that Miami blew a lead late in as well.

The Trail Blazers are coming off a huge victory on Thursday night that the Heat appreciate. The Blazers took down the Boston Celtics 116-109 and are partly responsible for the Heat’s 3-seed as of this moment.

Al-Farouq Aminu scored a career-high of 28 points, including six 3-pointers and 9 rebounds. This was despite Damian Lillard only scoring 14 points on 3-13 shooting.

After watching Darren Collison dominate the Heat backcourt, Lillard must be licking his chops to bounce back from his rare poor performance on Thursday.

On the season, Lillard is averaging 25.2 points, 6.9 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game 42 percent shooting from the field, and 38 percent from 3-point range.

Lillard scored 32 points and dropped 9 assists in a December 19th 116-109 victory for the Heat. Lillard also has a pair of 40-point games on the season and is a threat to go off at any time for a huge game.

The Heat should definitely be on their toes against Lillard on Saturday night.

The Blazers also need to be credited for piecing together a 40-36 season after an off-season that saw their former franchise player, Lamarcus Aldridge, depart the franchise to a Western Conference foe.

X-Factor: Joe Johnson

Gerald Green had a huge game starting in place of Dwyane Wade on Friday night, but as he has proven this season, he is not someone to rely on a night-to-night basis. His technical foul, which in his defense was defending a teammate, was chippy and unnecessary.

For this reason, Joe Johnson needs to have a bigger night for the Heat tonight. Johnson did have 14 points and 8 assists Friday night, but also committed 6 turnovers that turned into point for the Kings in transition.

With Wade out and Dragic dealing with his illness, Johnson will be relied on to control the ball more again on Friday night and giving Lillard chances in transition is something the Heat really need to limit.

Johnson has scored 20+ points twice since joining the Heat, a third performance as such would help the Heat a great deal tonight.

More heat: What does the future hold for Hassan Whiteside?

Key Stats:

Miami Heat offensive efficiency: 11th, 103.9 points per 100 possessions
Miami Heat defensive efficiency: 6th, 101.3 points allowed per 100 possessions

Portland Trail Blazers offensive efficiency: 7th, 105.7 points per 100 possessions
Portland Trail Blazers defensive efficiency: 20th, 105.3 points allowed per 100 possessions