With all the NBA drama going on off the court, it’s easy to forget that there are still games to be played. Tonight’s matchup in South Beach will serve as a nice reminder that the NBA’s on-court product is pretty appealing in its own right.
OKC roars into tonight’s matchup on the heels of a six-game winning streak, most recently earning a 126-117 victory over Orlando on Tuesday. During Paul George’s second year with the team, the Thunder have rounded into a legitimate title contender. George has emerged as an MVP candidate, averaging 27.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.3 steals per game. However, Russell Westbrook continues to struggle with his shot. He is shooting 41.6% from the field, 65% from the charity stripe, and an abysmal 25% from beyond the arc. Steven Adams and Terrance Ferguson remain questionable for tonight’s game. The Thunder will play this game on two days’ rest (8-2 record in such situations).
The Heat have seen better days. Miami looked lifeless in an embarrassing 105-89 loss to Chicago on Wednesday. “You could just feel missed shots sapped some of our energy and resolve at the other end,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the loss, which dropped Miami to a disappointing 11-14 record at home. Despite suffering a rash of injuries, the Heat should be much better than their sub-.500 record indicates. They need to improve immediately, as seven of their next eight opponents have winning records. Goran Dragic and Derrick Jones Jr. remain out with injuries. The Heat are 13-17 when playing on one day’s rest.
Even though the Thunder are riding a winning streak and playing on ideal rest, there is cause for concern regarding their extended stay in Miami. The Thunder have been in Miami since Wednesday morning, and it is no secret that teams tend to struggle after enjoying South Beach’s nightlife. Conversely, the Heat will be eager to avenge Wednesday’s loss and snap their two-game home losing streak.
Defense is the Thunder’s bread and butter. General manager Sam Presti has built this team with a clear identity by surrounding Westbrook and George with a treasure chest of long, athletic, defensive-minded role players. OKC has the second-best defensive rating (104.7) and defensive efficiency (1.021) in the league. With a plethora of aggressive perimeter defenders, OKC excels at forcing turnovers. The Thunder are first in the NBA in opponent turnovers per game (17.6) and opponent turnovers per possession (16.4%). OKC’s defensive success is further evident by ranking first in rebounds per game (57.4), 10th in opposing three-point percentage (34.6), and 10th in opponent fast-break points per game (12.7).
Led by Westbrook and George, OKC plays an aggressive offensive style predicated on relentlessly attacking the paint. The Thunder are fifth in the NBA in points in the paint per game (52.8). Their interior assault is also fueled by the team’s propensity to force turnovers and get out in transition. They are fifth in fast-break points per game (18.1), second in points off turnovers per game (20.6), and third in second-chance points per game (14.9).
However, OKC has struggled from the perimeter. Outside of George, the Thunder only possess one other playable three-point shooter in Ferguson. Thus, the Thunder are sixth in percent of points from twos (56.9) and 26th in percent of points from threes (27.3).
Similar to OKC, Miami prides itself on defense. Possessing a deep rotation of capable wing defenders, the Heat rank sixth in defensive rating (106.5) and defensive efficiency (1.038). Their defensive scheme is based on funneling an opposing team’s perimeter players towards the paint. There, opponents are met by elite shot-blockers Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo, who force them into difficult shots. The Heat dominate in the paint, ranking third in opponent points in the paint per game (43.1), second in opponent two-point percentage (48.9), fourth in blocks per game (5.8), and fourth in rebounds per game (56.4). Additionally, Miami allows the sixth-fewest points per game off fast breaks (11.9).
In the absence of a true superstar, Miami relies on a collective offensive effort. The Heat’s biggest offensive advantage is their quality of depth. Miami ranks fourth in bench efficiency (46.8) and sixth in bench points per game (41).
This is a bad matchup for the Thunder. OKC’s inclination to attack the paint will play right into Miami’s hands. The Thunder will struggle mightily against the Heat’s shot blockers and will be subsequently forced to score the ball from the perimeter. Furthermore, OKC will have issues scoring against Miami’s transition defense. The Heat also have a significant advantage with their second unit, as the Thunder’s bench ranks dead last in bench points per game (25.9).
The line for this game opened at -4 OKC. Thanks to 87% of public bets being placed on the Thunder, the line has now shifted to -5 OKC. The sharp bettors will likely back the Heat, as they tend to fade the public when a line contains over 80% of public action. Two superstars make OKC a public favorite, so they should continue to hammer them throughout the day.
Miami’s side contains the value. Road teams receiving a high percentage of the public’s betting action make excellent fades.
Even though OKC comes into tonight’s matchup playing better basketball, Miami is the side to back. The Heat’s ability to defend the paint will neutralize the Thunder’s offense. OKC will be forced to alter its offensive attack to a more perimeter-oriented approach. This will result in an inefficient scoring output. Additionally, the Thunder could be out of sync after spending an extended amount of time in South Beach. Take Miami +5 in what should be a grind-it-out affair.