The Heat pay the beard a visit

Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

The last time James Harden saw the Miami Heat, he was sidelined with former Oklahoma City teammates, attempting to cope with the despair and anguish of losing in the NBA finals. Now traded to the Houston Rockets and cemented as the face of the franchise, Harden will once again face his rivals.

It was five months ago, the stage was set and lights were as bright as possible. Television ratings were through the roof and all eyes were locked in on one of the most athletic NBA finals matchups in recent memory. The result? The Heat rattled the Thunder defensively, switching on picks effortlessly and controlling the series with consistent perimeter shooting.

But who got blamed the most? James Harden. Right or wrong, Harden received tons of blame for "disappearing" in the finals and letting the Thunder down. It's quite possible that his performance left a bad taste in managements mouth, causing them to trade the beard to Houston for future draft picks and alleviate salary.

The reality however, is that this will be the toughest competition the Rockets have faced so far this year.

Why Harden's pick and roll won't work

1) Dwyane Wade. Wade in my opinion, is the Heat's best overall defender and will pester Harden's isolation opportunities similar to the way Andre Iguodala did with the Nuggets.

2) Since Shane Battier and LeBron James play in the front court, a high pick and roll with a "big" will not yield an advantage for the Rockets. All that will simply happen is, either Battier or LeBron, who are both elite defenders, will switch on to Harden. Which basically means, a switch out with Chris Bosh or Udonis Haslem will be Harden's best opportunity to attack the paint. That's not going to happen that often tonight.

The result? Miami will force Harden to pass to teammates and make someone else create offense. Translation? Blowout. After his first two games this year, Harden has shot 23-71 (32%).

Although the beard would certainly wish to get revenge against the Heat with a dominating performance, it's just not likely at this point in the season. Miami defended Harden's pick and roll efforts perfectly in the finals, preventing the split, shrinking the floor and switching seamlessly to force outside shots.

With FAR less talent surrounding him now, Harden will have his hands full offensively tonight.

Prediction

Miami will win by double digits. Harden will shoot less than 40% and he and Jeremy Lin will commit around 10 combine turnovers.

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