Miami Heat: A look ahead at two challenges before Christmas break

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 20: Tyler Johnson
BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 20: Tyler Johnson /

A pair of Western Conference matchups stand in the way of Christmas break for the Miami Heat, a much needed respite for a depleted team.

Slowly but surely, injury-ridden lineups are becoming the new norm in South Beach. After dethroning the Boston Celtics without Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and others this past Wednesday, the Miami Heat look ahead to a pair of home games this weekend, against the Western Conference.

Despite the dreary outlook, head coach Erik Spoelstra spoke with confidence before the game, assuring that Miami’s walking wounded are making progress.

"“That means Hassan was able to get on the court, do a decent amount of work,” said Spoelstra. He continued, “Rodney was able to get on the court, do some shooting, a little of movement. And J.J. was even able to get on the court. So, a big win for us.”"

Lucky for Miami, the upcoming two-game home stand begins with the Dallas Mavericks, who currently occupy the second-to-last spot in the West. While the Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes poses a scoring threat, posting 18.5 points per game, Miami should be able to rely on Josh Richardson’s tenacious defense to disrupt Barnes’ stroke throughout the game.

The Heat will also look to Kelly Olynyk, who is coming off a career night in Boston, for strong interior defense. Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. has made a name for himself this year by assaulting the rim, and without Whiteside’s intimidation, the lane could become a highway for highlights against a limited Heat squad.

The second night of the back-to-back features a contest against the New Orleans Pelicans (who will also play their second game in two nights). Bolstered by the frontcourt tandem of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, Miami will have their hands full with limited defensive options against the Pelicans’ interior monstrosities. Davis and Cousins combine for almost 52 points per game, in addition to 22 rebounds each contest, meaning Miami has to prioritize minimizing second chance shots to find success in containing the duo.

In back-to-back situations, the Pelicans have fared slightly better than Miami, amassing a .500 record in games with no rest in between, compared to the Heat’s .333. Despite the daunting Davis-Cousins combo, Richardson, Dion Waiters and Tyler Johnson should find success in outlasting the Pelicans’ backcourt, which lacks scoring beyond breakout games from Jrue Holiday.

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Miami will return to action after the Christmas break on Tuesday, December 19 against in-state rival Orlando Magic.