It would be fair to say that the Miami Heat haven't beaten a formidable opponent yet. The New York Knicks and Memphis Grizzlies, who started the season a combined 10-1, both blew out the Heat. The Brooklyn Nets are 4-2, but their wins have come against Orlando (twice), Cleveland and Toronto.
The defending champions will have an opportunity to defeat a team that has looked good to start the season tonight, the Los Angeles Clippers. The best team in Los Angeles, the Clippers will host Miami with a 5-2 record on the young season. Although New York and Memphis have beaten Miami with great 3-point shooting, the Clippers pose a different set of challenges for the Heat.
Yes, Jamal Crawford -- who is actually leading the Clippers in scoring -- can get hot from downtown. Former Heat player Caron Butler can also hit 3-pointers. Butler actually made three triples in the lone meeting between these two teams last year, an L.A. overtime win. But as a team, the Clippers only make around six or seven 3s per game. The Heat need to most worry about the one-two punch of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. In fact, those two guys could create open 3s for their teammates.
It's impossible to stop two great players, but the Heat will have to keep both of them from getting easy shots at the rim. It'll be interesting to see how Miami defends the pick-and-roll with Paul tonight. Late in Miami's win over the Rockets Monday night, the Heat frequently switched defenders on the pick-and-roll. James Harden often drove past Chris Bosh easily, but many of Houston's 3s came off of Miami's defense scrambling to stop penetration (hat tip to Jay Ramos). Would the Heat rather live with Paul scoring than finding open players?
The Heat will probably double-team Blake Griffin, but will need to perfect the help-and-recover defense that worked so well during Miami's championship defense. It's naive to expect that in the middle of a four-games-in-five-nights stretch, but Miami will need to make everything hard for the Clippers. Griffin and DeAndre Jordan also pose a problem for the Heat's starting lineup. Shane Battier fronted Zach Randolph in his limited minutes against Memphis to mixed results. Will Erik Spoelstra use Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh in tandem a lot, as he did against the Grizzlies?
Miami's offense has been mostly great so far. Dwyane Wade could be a little more consistent, but Miami is averaging 106 points per game. The key tonight will be defense -- something the Heat didn't do very well against the Knicks or Grizzlies.