After rattling off nine straight wins, the last eight of which came without Blake Griffin, the Los Angeles Clippers set their sights on pushing that streak into double-digits as the Miami Heat travel to STAPLES Center. As it stands, the Heat are 22-16, but they’ve lost two in a row, and three of their last four. Their Western Conference road trip is a six game affair, and after they play the Clippers they have to travel to Denver and Oklahoma City for the final two stops. Leading the way for them are future Hall of Famers Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, as they are the two leading scorers. They’re the lynchpins to an era of brilliance in South Florida. After not playing in 70 or more games since 2010-11, it looks as if Wade is on track to actually have a healthy season. He’s missed only one game so far, and that was due to one of his sons being admitted to a hospital. So, he has been relatively healthy.
Bosh is still one of the best big men in the game today. He’s averaging 19.1 points and 8.0 rebounds while also shooting 39.1 percent from long range. His ability to face-up and stretch the floor, while also being a heck of a defender, is one of the reasons Miami continues to be successful. While he’s been healthy, Wade has had an up-and-down season. There are games where you see the old Flash come out, but there have been quite a few that have caused you to wonder if he’s nearing the end. Goran Dragic, a once great guard, has struggled mightily at times this season, and it appears as if he’s still looking for any semblance of consistency in this role. Luol Deng and Gerald Green are having solid seasons, but nothing special. Hassan Whiteside can be a difference maker at times, but the team has been far better defensively, and overall, without him on the court. Tyler Johnson looks like a diamond in the rough, and rookie Justise Winslow is already a tremendous perimeter defender and impact player on that side of the ball. Miami’s defense improves by 8.0 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor. If Whiteside is unable to play due to a knee injury, the Heat can play small and present some problems with a lineup that features Dragic, Wade, Green, Winslow, and Bosh (+42.3 NetRtg), or one featuring Deng instead of Green.
|2015-16 NBA Regular Season|
|January 13, 2016 — 7:30 PM PT|
|STAPLES Center (Los Angeles, California)|
|ESPN, Prime Ticket, FS-SUN, The Beast 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM|
|Goran Dragic||PG||Chris Paul|
|Dwyane Wade||SG||J.J. Redick|
|Luol Deng||SF||Luc Richard Mbah a Moute|
|Chris Bosh||PF||Paul Pierce|
|Hassan Whiteside||C||DeAndre Jordan|
|Efficiency Stats ('15-'16)|
|Josh McRoberts; Hassan Whiteside||GTD
Over the last eight games without Griffin, it really has been a team effort to keep the wheels turning. Chris Paul was recently named Western Conference Player of the Week. In the eight games without his running mate, Paul is averaging 19.5 points, 11.5 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.5 steals on 43-31-87 shooting. J.J. Redick is doing his best to help, and his ridiculous 54-56-96 shooting over this stretch, as well as his 18.5 points, have been a major help. His season is still one for the ages as he guns for the first 50-50-90 season in history. He currently sits at 49-48-88. DeAndre Jordan has picked up some of the slack as he’s averaging 14.0 points and 14.5 rebounds, in addition to 2.5 blocks, without Griffin by his side. In almost a miraculous turn of events, Jordan is shooting 51.9 percent from the free throw line since December 21st. It’s hard to hack a guy when he’s making half of his free throws now.
The team is getting solid bench play out of a Pablo Prigioni, Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, Wesley Johnson, and Cole Aldrich group, but they have a -5.5 NetRtg in the last eight games. Crawford is averaging 14.6 points on 45-31-96 shooting over that span, while Rivers got crazy hot and is averaging 13.3 points on 53-48-91 in the seven games since his return. The bench is a vital part to the team, whether that’s good or bad remains to be seen, and with Paul Pierce now thrust into the starting lineup due to injury, the bench has to stop any bleeding. Pierce is averaging 10.1 points on 40-42-90 since Griffin’s departure. While it looks like his shooting stroke came back over a five game stretch, he’s gone just 1-of-12 from beyond the arc over the last two contests. If they’re to win this game, they’ll likely need to outpace Miami, as letting them dictate the tempo is only bad news.