Battered Heat pay Lillard, Blazers a visit

LeBron James pushes the ball up-court. - Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE

Miami has only gone 3-4 over its last seven games and faces a surprisingly good Portland Trail-Blazers team.

The Miami Heat will try to improve to 1-1 on the six-game winning streak in a visit to the Portland Trail Blazers tonight for a 10:30 game on TNT. Miami has been in a bit of a funk lately, having only gone 3-4 in its last seven games. This current stretch of malaise comes after the Heat reeled off six straight wins, including an impressive win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Christmas Day. But the Heat's last two losses -- to the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers -- have amplified Miami's rebounding issues.

Chris Bosh spoke candidly after Miami's loss to Indiana Tuesday, saying, "If I'm lacking on my job and it's not me, and I'm not a good rebounder out there, I'm not what this team needs, then maybe I need to sit and learn some more."

Bosh has always said what's on his mind with no filter, sometimes to his detriment. As fellow Hot Hot Hoops writer Jay Ramos points out, Miami is actually a vastly better rebounding team with the 2012 NBA Finals lineup than its current starting lineup of Udonis Haslem substituting for Shane Battier. The Heat can become a good rebounding team with the current roster, but need Bosh and LeBron James to stop coasting so much on the defensive end of the floor.

Tonight's game against Portland will be far from a cakewalk. The Blazers have started a post-Brandon Roy rebuilding process with a better-than-expected 19-15 record. Electrifying rookie Damian Lillard scores 18 points per game for the Blazers, and Miami will have to turn him into a volume shooter -- similar to what the Heat did to Derrick Rose in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals. Although Lillard is supremely talented and will likely win Rookie of the Year, he only shoots 42 percent from the field.

But Portland also sports a long, athletic frontline. Nicolas Batum will use his long arms to bother LeBron James, and I'd like to see James go to his post game a lot tonight. Bosh needs to hold LaMarcus Aldridge in check -- especially when he uses his back-to-the-basket game -- and keep him honest on offense. Aldridge has grabbed 11 rebounds per game since the turn of the calendar, but that could be a deceptive, small-sample-size statistic for a poor rebounder. But J.J. Hickson -- whom I wanted Miami to sign in free agency -- has averaged a double-double in just 30 minutes a night this season. This game won't be easy, but the Heat will have a good chance to win if they play 48 minutes of defense and intensity.

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