The Golden State Warriors are coming off a statement win over the Sacramento Kings after a deflating defeat at home against the Memphis Grizzlies. They begin a four game home stand, with three of their next match-ups coming against Eastern Conference opponents. First up, the Miami Heat on Tuesday night.
The Heat are currently 11-28 and have lost eight of their last ten games. They are a lottery team searching for an identity after the concurrent losses of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to free agency and poor health, respectively.
On paper, Miami should not be able to challenge Golden State, but teams like the Heat have been able to effectively play close games against the Warriors using physicality, energy and a lack of reciprocal effort from the Warriors. That being said, the Warriors will want to set the tone early, especially as they eye an MLK day rematch against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Miami has dealt with injury issues all season long; there’s the ongoing saga with Bosh, season-ending surgery for Justise Winslow, and a stress fracture in Josh McRobert's left foot that’s causing him to miss games indefinitely. Luke Babbitt and Josh Richardson did not play in their last game against the Los Angeles Clippers and are game time decisions against the Warriors.
Clearly, injuries have depleted a squad that was already not in a position to compete meaningfully for a playoff spot this year; that gives the Warriors a perfect opportunity to entertain the home crowd with a blowout win.
Warriors must maintain balance
Stephen Curry just won Player of the Week honors and has been a force since the Christmas Day game agains the Cavaliers. His aggressiveness, in both shot selection and willingness to go to the rack, has been palpable and has led to him averaging 28 points per game with a nearly .50 field goal percentage (FG%). Expect him to torch a Miami backcourt that could be missing their best perimeter defender in Richardson.
Meanwhile, Kevin Durant faced criticism for his actions during the Grizzlies game, although most of the exaggerated reactions were a misguided reflex to what was understandably a disappointing loss. But Durant has still managed to average almost 25 points on an efficient .52 FG% since the Christmas day matchup, even with an observable emphasis of Curry in the offense. The Heat have no one who can guard Durant, as is the case with most teams in this league, so look for him to get whatever shot he wants in the first of these upcoming Eastern Conference match-ups.
Zaza Pachulia emerged as an unlikely hero in Sunday night’s game against the Sacramento Kings, as he outplayed Demarcus Cousins in the third quarter — the critical frame of the matchup. He will be called on again to deal with Hassan Whiteside, a physical force in his own right.
The Warriors play their best when everyone is involved. Curry must remain aggressive but still look to get his teammates going. All in all, an engaged Warriors squad should be able to build a double-digit lead early against a weaker Heat team and continue to add to it, hopefully gaining the starters some rest in anticipation of the coming opponents.