The Miami Heat are trying to ride a wave of momentum as they head to Memphis to face the Grizzlies on Monday night.
Miami defeated the surging Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, 122-118 in overtime. It was the fourth time this season the Heat earned a split in back-to-back games — they lost Friday to the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers — but coach Erik Spoelstra called it a step forward.
“We needed a breakthrough,” he told reporters afterward. “We’ve been playing horrible basketball on the second night of back-to-backs. Our approach was right. Not to make any excuses, not to be a victim, but to find a way to bring a different kind of energy.
“I saw that certainly in the first half, fourth quarter and overtime,” he added.
The Heat faced a Dallas team that lost MVP candidate Luka Doncic to an ankle injury in the first quarter, but Miami was without Justise Winslow and Goran Dragic. Winslow, who has appeared in just 10 games on the season, is day-to-day with a back injury. Dragic is day-to-day with a groin injury.
Despite some missing players, and Spoelstra’s stated need for “a breakthrough,” Miami is rolling recently, winning seven of its last nine.
Overcoming absences has been more of a struggle for Memphis.
Only three Grizzlies have appeared in all 26 games: Dillon Brooks, Tyus Jones and Marko Guduric. Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins told reporters earlier in the season he anticipated experimenting with lineups, but losing players to injury accelerated that plan.
Among those Grizzlies seeing more opportunities in December are Bruno Caboclo and De’Anthony Melton.
“Guys have had positive spirits, they’ve embraced every opportunity. But now that we get to see them get more game minutes it’s just more of an evaluation for us to see where they’re growing so we can continue to build our player development program plans,” Jenkins told The Athletic.
Rookies Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke have been Memphis’ statistical leaders through two months. Clarke is averaging 12.7 points and 5.9 rebounds, primarily in a reserve role. Morant is a leading contender for Rookie of the Year, producing team-bests of 18.7 points, 6.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
Both have missed six games in recent weeks, Morant due to back soreness and Clarke with an oblique injury. Both were scratched from the lineup in a 127-114 loss to Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee on Friday, the Grizzlies’ only defeat in their last four outings.
Morant and Clarke returned to the lineup Saturday in a 128-111 win over Washington. Clarke had one of the best outings of his young career, scoring 25 points. Two of them came on an emphatic dunk over Ian Mahinmi that mirrored Morant’s dunk on Phoenix Suns center Aron Baynes three nights earlier.
“I would say Brandon (had the better dunk) because his was on a body,” Melton told the Commercial Appeal.
Style points will be less of a concern for Memphis against Miami than simply mustering any points it can. The Heat rank ninth in the NBA in opponent scoring average, with two of the team’s leading scorers also setting the defensive tone.
All-Star wing Jimmy Butler is averaging 2.1 steals per game in addition to his team-best 21.0 points per game. Breakthrough third-year center Bam Adebayo is averaging 1.2 blocks and 1.4 steals to go with 15.2 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.
–Field Level Media