Last time these two teams met it was very early in the season, and Miami was off to a surprisingly hot start. Since then the Heat have struggled a bit, coping with health issues that have included nagging injuries to (and plenty of rest for) veterans like Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade and a season-ending torn meniscus for Josh McRoberts. Dallas has been dealing with its own slump lately, losing four in a row, and it seems like fans here are starting to get frustrated. What's the mood like among Miami fans these days?
I'd say it's a roller-coaster of emotions, really. As you said, the season started off well and then the injury bug kicked in. The fans kept hoping one player would come back (McRoberts, from off-season toe surgery) and then another (Wade) would go down. And then Bosh. And then McRoberts, again, and this time for good. Suddenly, the emergence of Hassan Whiteside has been encouraging and giving us a legitimate threat at center only to receive news on Thursday that Wade's latest hamstring injury will sideline him for weeks. Starting to see a pattern here? If you had to describe the prevailing emotions, it's tempered optimism. If healthy, this team can be dangerous but that hasn't been an option all season.
Miami is currently seventh in the Eastern Conference. Are you pretty confident they'll stay in playoff contention and that Bosh and Wade can get the rest they need to be ready to go in April? Or are you concerned at all about any of the teams below you moving up?
I'm far from confident, as you can imagine. I still believe we haven't seen the best of what this team is capable of but that seems less and less likely with every new injury. Having said that, if Wade comes back in decent shape for the last part of the season, I think we can hang on to a playoff spot, maybe even make some noise in the postseason. The teams at the bottom of the East's playoff standings are dealing with issues, too. Milwaukee has had injury problems and the Nets seem capable of imploding at any second. I'd worried about the Hornets but losing Kemba Walker will probably derail their chances at the postseason. That's life in the Eastern Conference...you can play poorly and still back your way into the playoffs.
Both of these teams feature different starting lineups than they did in November, with the Mavericks looking a little more balanced in terms of offense and defense after the Rondo trade and the Heat getting bigger with the addition of Hassan Whiteside at center and Bosh sliding up to replace McRoberts at the four. How do you anticipate those personnel changes impacting this match-up?
I was looking forward to it, prior to the Wade injury. But Whiteside going up Tyson Chandler is still intriguing, as is Bosh moving back to his more-natural power forward spot - and against Dirk, no less! For those Mavs fans that might not know it, Whiteside is a legitimate center, despite bouncing in and out of the league since he was drafted four years ago. He's changed the dynamic for the team on offense and defense and I'm comfortable saying he'll be able to be productive against Chandler. As for Bosh/Nowitzki, Whiteside's emergence as a rim-protector allows his teammates to concentrate on guarding the perimeter and Bosh's athleticism should limit Dirk somewhat. Now, how the backcourt fares is another question. They've given up some big nights against other opposing guards so I'd expect Monta Ellis to go off at some point.
Speaking of Whiteside, his emergence has been one of the more fun storylines of the season. Do you have a favorite Hassan Whiteside highlight?
It's still early but, clearly, the recent triple-double he notched against the Bulls (going for 14 points, 13 rebounds and a franchise-record 12 blocks). It's hard to top that, especially considering that performance came after he missed two straight games to an ankle injury. Watch how he moves on pick-and-rolls and cuts to the basket; this is where he's been most impressive. And his hands are ridiculously strong, as he catches anything thrown anywhere near him. Like I said before, a legitimate threat.
When we spoke back in November, you predicted a breakout game from Luol Deng, who went on to drop 30 points in a solid win over the Mavericks. Anything you want to try to call this time? No pressure...
None at all! Well, I'll go on record as saying Bosh should have a big game. Dirk's not a solid defender at this point so C.B. should be able to capitalize on that matchup. With Whiteside drawing defenders in the paint, that opens up the floor for versatile players like Bosh, who can pop it from the mid-range or behind the 3-point line just as easily as he can drive to the hoop. And with Wade out of service, the Heat are going to need a big game from their best scorer - I'll say he gets around 30 and 5 this time around, albeit in a Mavericks win. How's that for a prediction?
Thanks, David! Be sure to visit Hot Hot Hoops for more Heat coverage.