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Game Preview: Miami Heat vs. Phoenix Suns

Hello All, On January 8th, the Heat begins a West Coast swing in Phoenix against the Suns in what should be an incendiary matchup (NAILED the joke…only a matter of time…). This game is a clash of styles; the Heat win with defense, and the Suns win with the fastest moving offense in the league. This isn’t quite the "Seven Seconds or Less" Era in Phoenix, but it is far closer than last season. Unsurprisingly, the Suns are back in the contender discussion out West. The Suns enter at 23-13, including 14-3 at home. PROJECTED STARTERS Heat Suns PG Arroyo S. Nash SG Wade J. Richardson SF Q. Richardson G. Hill PF Beasley Stoudemire C O’Neal Frye The Heat don’t compare all that well talent wise, but if I were the Heat my starting five would not necessarily be the five I used most often. In fact, I would like to see a smaller lineup that features Udonis Haslem at the five spot for most of the game. I could see Quentin Richardson having a big night in his old stomping grounds, but the big matchup problem is Stoudemire. He likes to start with the ball in the high post and then crash through the paint. He’s not great on D, but he is good for at least 25-12 in this matchup…who are the Heat going to guard him with? A banged up O’Neal? Joel Anthony? Jamaal Magliore? These are not great matchups, to say the least. Beasley is not strong enough to keep up consistently, and so that leaves Haslem forced to get major minutes covering Stoudemire. The Suns also bring Leandro Barbosa off the bench, and he can fill it up in a hurry, kind of a poor man’s Manu Ginobli. The change back to a fast paced offense has done him wonders. The Suns will also bring Louis Admunson off the bench at the center spot; he is undersized but has lead the team in rebounds several times this season and is a high energy guy. And, of course, there is Nash. No one needs to be reminded that he is a matchup problem for Arroyo, Mario Chalmers and the newly acquired Skip To My Lou (can we have his name officially changed to this, at least on his jersey?). Speaking of Alston, here is John Hollinger'r review of the trade as a little food for thought:
Here's what I don't get about Miami's zest to acquire Rafer Alston: Carlos Arroyo has been better. Way better. With a 12.13 PER and a tepid 11.1 points per 40 minutes, Arroyo wasn't exactly on the cusp of stardom, but he'd done a solid job since taking over at point guard for Mario Chalmers. Alston, meanwhile, has been terrible, with a 9.14 PER, a 34.3 shooting percentage and an elevated turnover rate. I've talked to scouts who saw him in New Jersey, and their opinions reflected those numbers.
He also talks about the cap implications of keeping both Arroyo and Alston:
It's unclear whether the Heat intend to drop Arroyo, whose contract becomes guaranteed if he isn't waived Wednesday, or keep him around as insurance. However, he would be an expensive luxury considering Miami's efforts to get under the luxury tax. Most likely, the Heat will cut him and try to bring him back on a 10-day deal, but other suitors (including European teams) could short-circuit that idea by offering him a more secure deal.
So there you go, discuss away. Personally, I'd stick with Arroyo. But that's just me. STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN (Stats from Statsheet.com; 1/6/10) Effective Field Goal % The Heat ranks 18th in the league at 49.1%, while the Suns rank 1st at 55%. EDGE: Suns (Needless to Say) Turnover % The Heat ranks 2nd in the league at 12.8%, while the Suns rank 20th at 15%. EDGE: Heat (Big) Offensive Rebound % The Heat ranks 23rd in the league at 25.3%, while the Suns rank 13th at 26.9%. EDGE: Suns Free Throw Rate The Heat ranks 11th at 31.5%, while the Suns rank 17th at 30.3%. EDGE: Heat The Suns not only get the most possessions per game of any team in the NBA, but they make the most of their shots. They turn the ball over a lot, which is a symptom of the style they play. What surprised me is that they rebound surprisingly well for a "running" team that is a bit undersized, which means they create a lot of second chances; when you shoot over 50%, your second opportunities usually result in buckets. KEYS TO THE GAME For the Heat, they will have to play like they did against the Hawks. Stifling defense won them that game, just as it did against the Knicks on Christmas Day, a similarly paced team to the Suns (although the Suns are clearly better than the Knicks). If the Heat can keep Nash contained to some degree AND limit the damage Stoudemire does from the high post AND limit second chance points for the Suns, then they can win. For the Suns, the key is to force the Heat into a shootout, which is not their style. If the Heat are playing the Suns’ game at their stadium, they will have a tough time winning. I think that the Suns will be able to dictate tempo and therefore win the game. Would it surprise me if the Heat wins? No. They are only consistent in their inconsistency. And if I were a betting man I would just take the opposite of whatever Dan Stein picked. Always guard the inbound passer.