After a disappointing loss to the Boston Celtics and an uneven 4-6 record over their last 10 games, the Miami Heat return home to face the 40-27 Memphis Grizzlies Friday at 7:30 p.m. Miami has been fortunate that the Indiana Pacers have faced some regular season malaise recently, but the Heat could easily stand as the top seed now if the team simply didn't lose 11 games to below-.500 teams. It then may be comforting that Miami will play a Western Conference team battling for playoff positioning.
Additionally, the game has some extra significance as former Heat swingman Mike Miller will receive his 2013 NBA championship ring. Although Miller spent three injury-riddled seasons in Miami, he emerged as a starter during last year's Finals and was amnestied in the off-season. He will undoubtedly get a nice ovation from the crowd when he first checks in, as fans remember his 7 3-point performance in the clincher against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012.
The Grizzlies have had an underwhelming season after reaching the conference finals a year ago. Marc Gasol has battled injuries, and Memphis is just the seventh seed in the West right now. But both Gasol and Zach Randolph are coming off 20-point, 10-rebound games. Miami's chief goal Friday night will be to contain those two skilled big men. We may see Greg Oden get the start, as he did against Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets. Erik Spoelstra may also use Udonis Haslem after a couple solid performances against Cleveland and Boston. The Heat simply need Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen and everyone else on the frontline to make things difficult for Gasol and Randolph.
Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole will again have their hands full with one of the underrated point guards in the NBA, Mike Conley. And of course, the Heat should not leave Miller open from beyond the arc. He can get into the lane and feed either Randolph or Gasol. This game will require a commitment to the Heat's defensive principles.