The Miami Heat won the 2012 NBA Championship behind an MVP performance of Lebron James and contributions from elite players Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. In the offseason, they added Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis for minimal salary and looked to be an all-time NBA juggernaut of a team.
The Atlanta Hawks on the other hand, dumped Joe Johnson for a handful of expiring contracts, only two of which are getting any significant minutes on the team, Stevenson and Morrow. They flipped Marvin Williams for a backup point guard and added Lou Williams and Kyle Korver, but seemed to have significant defensive problems entering the 2012-13 season.
Two teams headed in the opposite direction, right? A quick glance at the standings sees a 13-5 and a 12-5 record thus far, with tonight’s matchup up in American Airlines Arena for first in the Southeast Division. This is a testament to Larry Drew committing this Hawks team to playing defense night in and night out, holding every single opponent to under 50% FG%, the only team to do so.
Slowing down the reigning MVP will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination. Lebron James averages 28.4 points per game on .493 FG% (.530 eFG%), 8 rebounds and 6.2 assists against the Hawks in his career. Teammate Chris Bosh is in the middle of his best season in a Miami Heat uniform, averaging 18.9 points and 7.9 rebounds in 33.6 minutes of play. The efficiency of which he scores this season is most astounding, recording a .534 FG% (.618 TS% and .540 eFG%), all easily the best marks of his career.
Lebron has played the power forward much more this season than previous seasons with Chris Bosh at the center to start the game. This makes for and entertaining matchup of top 30 players Josh Smith on Lebron and Al Horford on Chris Bosh.
Kyle Korver is still recovering from a nagging back injury which leaves Josh mostly on the hook for containing Lebron, although DeShawn Stevenson may see time defending him when Lebron is at the small forward. Those two are very familiar with each other from their heated battles between the Cavaliers and the Wizards of the mid 2000s as well as Stevenson getting the best of Lebron in the 2011 NBA Finals.
With the edition of Lewis and Allen, the Heat’s offensive efficiency as risen to second best in the league, whereas their defense has declined to 15th best, down from 4th best a year ago.
This game will be won at the three point line. Miami is the best three point shooting team in the league at an eye-popping 42.5 3P%, with five players (Allen, Lewis, James, James Jones, Shane Battier) shooting at least 40% among those shooting at least 30 times behind the arc this season. Lebron James and Dwyane Wade create many opportunities by driving to draw double and triple teams in the paint and kicking to open shooters. Like the Hawks, the Heat are also in the bottom 5 in offensive rebounding rate so second chance opportunities may be few and far between.
It is important Teague, Harris, Lou, Morrow and Stevenson can guard the perimeter and rotate to cover three point shooters and the Josh Smith can stay in front of Lebron James, who may act as a point-forward for much of the game. Despite some lackluster games against the Knicks and Wizards recently, this is a very dangerous Heat team, as they have been the last 2 years and change. Look for a scrappy three point contest tonight in South Beach.
Tip off is at 7:30 PM.
*Stats taken from Hoopdata.com and Basketball-reference.com