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Game Preview: Miami Heat at Houston Rockets

Hello All, Friday night the Heat will be in Houston to take on the Rockets. On "Around the Horn" today, the panel discussed Wednesday night’s thrilling win by the Rockets over the Timberowlves (if you haven’t seen Corey Brewer’s shot to send it into overtime, please go YouTube it; that is officially the only nice thing I ever plan on saying about a Florida Gator). One of the writers (can’t remember which, think it was Mariotti) summed up the Rockets very well: they play better than the talent on their roster. That is reflected in their 22-17 record in the superior Western Conference despite playing the entire season without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady (their two best players). The Rockets are 12-4 at home. Meanwhile, the Heat continues their inconsistent play and could use another statement win just 5 games after destroying the Hawks. The Heat are 19-18 overall and 8-8 on the road. PROJECTED STARTERS Heat Rockets PG Alston A. Brooks SG Wade T. Ariza SF Richardson S. Battier PF Beasley L. Scola C O’Neal C. Hayes The Rockets lineup is filled with overachievers. Scola is probably the best pure scorer out of this group, but no one really stands out as the star. Rahat Huq wrote on HoopNation Blog "94Red", as noted here by Henry Abbott at TrueHoop, that the Rockets go as Aaron Brooks go. Brooks is coming off a career high 43 points in the win over the Wolves and is averaging 48% from three in Rockets wins and 33% in losses. Also from Huq at his 94Red blog: the New York times called Chuck Hayes the next line of evolution of the modern center. Hayes is only 6’6", but is wide enough to fill the lane and quick enough to guard the pick and roll. Both bear watching. STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN (via Statsheet.com; 11/14/10) Effective Field Goal % The Heat and Rockets are tied for 20th in the league at 48.9%. EDGE: Even Turnover % The Heat is 2nd in the league at 12.8%; the Rockets are 10th at 14.2%. EDGE: Heat Offensive Rebound % The Heat is 19th in the league at 25.7%; the Rockets are 9th at 28%. EDGE: Rockets Free Throw Rate The Heat is 12th in the league at 31.1%; the Rockets are 24th at 27.5%. EDGE: Heat So there you have it. The Rockets don’t jump off the page anywhere but win and win consistently. They have a lineup built on being able to defend players like Wade, Lebron and Kobe while being able to adapt to different styles of play. Their strength is their versatility, so it makes sense that they do not have any single category that they perform particularly well in. KEYS TO THE GAME The Heat will have to be able to force Brooks in to a bad shooting night, as Haq pointed out. Easier said then done, but not out of the realm of possibility. If I were the Heat, I would put Wade on Brooks for stretches early in the game to see what happens. That, and Wade will have to deal with Ariza’s hounding defense. Beasley will have to deal with Battier at times, which is a rough matchup for anyone. If you have any doubt about that, read Chris Ballard’s chapter on Battier in "The Art of a Beautiful Game". However, O’Neal has been playing better of later and can exploit the size differential between himself and the Rockets combination of Hayes and Carl Landry. The Rockets, meanwhile, have to limit the Heat’s perimeter options and force O’Neal and Beasley to beat them in the post. O’Neal and Beasley can get their points, but if Wade is shut down and Beasley is only doing damage in the post, the Rockets will win. Also, the Heat really don’t have a god matchup for Scola. He should have a big night. Again, the Rockets can adapt to different styles of play, so it is unlikely the Heat will be able to win just by dictating the pace of play. Wade is going to have to have another monster game for the Heat to get out of Houston with the win. Call it a hunch, but I think he does and the Heat win. On a sidenote, I went and saw John Wall and Co. eviscerate UF the other night and came away very impressed. For one, Wall looks like - worst-case scenario - Ben Gordon. Best case? A combo of Derron Williams and Dwyane Wade. Second, I think Eric Bledsoe might be just as good. The kid is being overshadowed but will be a star in college and the NBA before all is said and done. But enough about Kentucky; I leave Wildcat fans with one lasting image: Always guard the inbound passer.