Welcome to the Phoenix Suns preview for game No. 51 of the 2013-14 season. The Suns have already had their share of opportunities to show they belong in the playoff discussion. They’ve beaten the Indiana Pacers, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers, just to name a few. They’ll have another opportunity tonight, as they’ll face off against the two-time defending NBA champions, the Miami Heat.
WHO: Phoenix Suns (30-20) vs. Miami Heat (35-14)
WHERE: US Airways Center, Phoenix, Arizona
WHEN: 7pm Local Time
TV: Fox Sports Arizona
The last time these two teams met was in Miami back on November 25, 2013. The Heat handled the Suns easily, winning 107-92 behind 35 points from LeBron James and 21 points, six rebounds and 12 assists from Dwyane Wade. Eric Bledsoe didn’t appear in the game, with the Suns getting 16 points from Channing Frye and 14 points, eight rebounds and nine assists from Goran Dragic. The Suns shot just 39.8 percent.
1. P.J. Tucker “stopping” LeBron James
There is no real way to stop James, but the Suns will do their best to contain him. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic quoted James as saying (in reference to the matchup against Tucker): “No one man can guard me one-on-one. It’s going to be a team game.” Those words show the confidence that James has in his game — and he’s right. Jeff Hornacek will have to come up with a scheme to shade towards James, as they’ll fail miserably guarding him one-on-one.
2. Control the paint
One of the hallmarks of the Heat defense has been their ability to rotate defensively. They’re not strong in the paint, but they are excellent at patrolling the perimeter, making every shot contested. The Suns will need to get into the paint against the Heat to keep them at bay. Look for Miles Plumlee to try to get out to a hot start so that the defense will have to sag to help out. Plumlee has shown that he can get his baby hook off against anyone and his athleticism cannot be matched by any of Miami’s big men.
3. Goran can steal the show
Goran Dragic has been on fire as of late and it’s not time for him to rest just yet. He’ll need to be aggressive early and often, getting into the lane and to the basket against Chris Andersen, Chris Bosh and the other Miami bigs. If Dragic can continue to find the soft spots in the defense (as he did against Indiana), he’ll continue to get quality open looks for his teammates. Dragic doesn’t need to score 30 for the Suns to win, but he needs to be a consistent threat to score, so as to open up the perimeter for Channing Frye and Gerald Green to do their thing.
Prediction: Phoenix Suns 105, Miami Heat 99
Michael Dunlap is an NBA credentialed writer who is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief for the Sports Illustrated/Fansided NBA site HoopsHabit.com and the Arizona Sports site HeatWaved.com. He also covers high school sports for The Arizona Republic. Follow me on Twitter @DunlapNBA.