Here’s how the Miami Heat (20-15) can beat the Houston Rockets (18-16) Monday night at Kaseya Center, their first game of a four-game homestand.
1. Don’t get killed in transition, which is easier said the done
The biggest difference between the Rockets this season vs. last season is on defense, where they have improved from 29th in defensive rating to fifth.
Under head coach Ime Udoka, the Rockets have morphed into the best transition defense team in the league. Instead of crashing the offensive glass, they get back on defense and build a shell before their opponent can get out on the break.
The Rockets are No. 1 in transition points allowed (off steals and off rebounds), but it’s not exactly like the Heat have been winning games with transition points this season, anyway. Miami ranks 28th in points added in transition, per Cleaning The Glass.
Still, the Heat are 26th in transition defense this season, ranking particularly low (29th) in points allowed off steals. It will be important for Miami’s ball-handlers to take care of the ball and limit those opportunities.
2. Make the tough shots
Only three teams give up fewer shots at the rim than the Rockets, who force opponents to take most of their shots in the mid-range.
The Heat, meanwhile, have been trying to do a better job of getting to the rim but still rank near the bottom of the league in rim rate. Without Jimmy Butler in this one (out for the fourth straight game with a foot injury), the Heat might as well throw away any hopes of getting to the basket with regularity.
This is a matchup where Miami’s top mid-range shooters – Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Jaime Jaquez Jr. – can find some opening. Adebayo’s free-throw line jumper will be there, and Herro will be able to snake his way for jumpers and floaters.
The Rockets will be without top-shelf defenders Dillon Brooks and Tari Eason for Monday night’s matchup, which could help the Heat find some weak points in Houston’s defense.
3. Bam Adebayo has to win his matchup
It might surprise you to learn that Rockets center Alperen Sengun had more All-Star votes (335,115) than Adebayo (238,485) when the league announced first returns last week.
But if you’ve watched Sengun this season, maybe it doesn’t come as a shock. The third-year center is averaging 21.4 points, 9 rebounds and 5.1 assists as the hub of Houston’s offense. They use him like a mini-Nikola Jokic, with Sengun running sets from the post, finding cutters, and muscling his way to the basket when the pass isn’t available.
Adebayo will have his hands full on defense, but will have to use his speed to beat Sengun on the other end. Adebayo’s numbers are slightly down since he returned from injury (21.4 points on 47.2% shooting, 10.9 rebounds and 4 assists) and he hasn’t had a 30-point game since Nov. 28. The Heat can use one Monday night.