Welcome to “Fraternizing with the Enemy”, where each week we look at the upcoming games from the perspective of writers who cover them on a daily basis. We’ll review the each opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, players that might have an influence on the match-up, and what might be the result of the game.
What is the Heat’s identity this year? What are they good at, and what are they not so good at?
Nekias: Grind it out. It’s as simple as that for the Heat. Miami ranks 23rd in seconds per possession this year per tracking data at Inpredictable. While they’ve substituted some of their pick-and-rolls from last season with dribble handoffs, the drive-and-kick-and-drive-again mantra still remains. They can tire teams out, and the pure volume of threes can overwhelm cold teams when guys like Wayne Ellington, Kelly Olynyk, and Josh Richardson get hot. If they aren’t on, though, Miami’s lack of a consistent 1-on-1 scorer hurts them immensely.
They’re physical and disciplined defensively. We’ve seen them mix in some traps over the last couple of weeks, but they mostly defend pick-and-rolls 2-on-2 in order to stay home on shooters. That’s mostly worked; they rank 6th in defensive rating, and rank in the top five in three-point attempts and makes allowed.
Which Heat player is going to be the one to watch in this matchup, and why?
Nekias: The center matchup will likely determine this game. Steven Adams is one of the best (and underrated) centers in the league. His ability to create second, third, and fourth opportunities with his handiwork on the offensive glass is beyond valuable for OKC, and frustrating for the opposition. His brick wall screens also spring guys free on and off the ball. With the way Miami defends schematically, there’s plenty of opportunities for OKC to get good looks.
In short, Hassan Whiteside will have his hands full. He’ll need to actually box out to keep Adams off the glass; if that means allowing the guards to swoop in as opposed to padding his own rebounding total, so be it. He’ll need to be locked in defensively as well. His ability to contain drivers coming downhill will make or break Miami’s ability to stay in this game.
Is there an under-the-radar Heat player that Thunder fans should be aware of?
Nekias: The Thunder should probably watch out for Rodney McGruder if he gets some burn. Miami has already clinched a playoff spot, so it wouldn’t surprise me if head coach Erik Spoelstra opens up the rotation a little. McGruder is more feisty than good defensively, but he has some “thorn in your side” that can irk stars. His three-point shooting has improved and he never stops moving. Fall asleep off the ball, and he’ll sneak backdoor for a finish. There’s real “how the heck does he have 16 points?” potential here if OKC isn’t careful.
What’s the biggest key to the Heat winning the game, in your opinion?
Nekias: Miami has to keep the turnovers down and force OKC into tough shots. They got the latter point to fall in their favor last time—some uncharacteristically cold shooting from the Big Three through three quarters also helped. Ultimately, Miami gave up the rock too much to take advantage. Once Russell Westbrook went nova, it was over. If Miami can play their brand of crisp, physical defense while taking care of the ball on the other end, they can hang around. From there, anything can happen. They’ve been one of the better clutch teams in the league, ranking in the top ten in virtually every category outside of pace and assist rate.
Who wins, and why?
Nekias: I think the Thunder pull this game out. Not only are they the more talented team with much more star power, they have more to play for than Miami does. The West is an absolute bloodbath. Miami’s best path to making a playoff run features a 2-7 matchup with the Boston Celtics. From that standpoint, a Heat loss here would probably help them, though of course Spo and the guys aren’t actually thinking that way. Still, OKC should pull this out.
What is the Grizzlies’ identity this year? What are they good at, and what are they not so good at?
Aimee: Can a basketball team have an identity crisis? They don’t really have an identity this year, and it’s been painful to watch them struggle to find one. The last vestiges of the Grit ‘n Grind style of play that has been the calling card of this Grizzlies team for the last 7 years seems to have died. Injuries have definitely played a large role in the Grizzlies’ struggles. However, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first season without Zach Randolph is also the season the wheels fell completely off for this team.
This has been a tough season for the Grizzlies — for the team and fans alike. They are exceptionally good at blowing double-digit leads and not so good at actually winning games.
Which Grizzlies player is going to be the one to watch in this matchup, and why?
Aimee: I’m going with the team’s most recent acquisition, MarShon Brooks. Even keeping in mind the small sample size (Brooks has only played 4 games so far with the team) he’s been tremendous for the Grizzlies offensively.
Is there an under-the-radar Grizzlies player that Thunder fans should be aware of?
Aimee: Yes. Dillon Brooks, a Canadian small forward from the University of Oregon.
He’s the best player the Grizzlies have drafted in years, in terms of both immediate production and potential.
What’s the biggest key to the Grizzlies winning the game, in your opinion?
Aimee: A miracle. There’s no sugarcoating just how bad this team has been pretty much all season, and I don’t expect that to suddenly change. I do expect the young guys to play hard, but what’s left of the roster is basically being held together by chewing gum and duct tape. It’s the last game of the season for this Grizzlies team. For the first time in 8 years, they aren’t headed to the postseason. Just put us all out of our collective misery.
Who wins, and why?
Aimee: Thunder win. See above.
Thanks to our guests for their contributions to this week’s Fraternizing With the Enemy. Join us next week for another installment.