The Golden State Warriors begin the toughest stretch of their entire schedule Wednesday night at home against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat, a team they beat on the road on Dec. 12.
Things have changed a bit since that contest more than a month ago. Golden State was off to a hot start at the time, the win pushing them to 15-7 on the year, while LeBron James and company fell to 14-6. The Warriors continued to win after vanquishing the Heat at American Airlines Arena and are now considered a “contender” in the Western Conference approaching the season’s half way mark. Meanwhile, the Heat are slumping, or at least experiencing what constitutes a slump for them. Miami is only 8-9 on the road and are only one game better than the Warriors in the standings entering Wednesday’s showdown.
But the Warriors may be facing their first true test of the year. Losers of three of their last four games, Golden State is embarking on a five game stretch that sees them play four teams that could easily end up in the NBA Finals in June. After the Heat, the Dubs take on the Spurs in Antonio on Friday, play a “should win” in New Orleans, then come home for the Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder at Oracle on the 21st and 23rd, respectively.
January is no time to panic during a tough stretch (unless you’re the Lakers), but there’s no doubt Golden State could help itself out by winning at least three of the next five against the best the league has to offer. That starts with the Heat, who surely haven’t forgotten the Warriors coming down to South Beach and beating them in front of their home fans.
Miami isn’t exactly sizzling coming into the game, however. Monday’s 104-97 loss to the Jazz sparked a small controversy when Dwayne Wade sat out the entire fourth quarter and had to watch his team’s comeback effort fall short. Wade was visibly displeased in the locker room following the game, an attitude some reported is not unique to Wade.
Then there’s on court performance. As mentioned earlier, the Heat have struggled away from American Airlines Arena, somewhat strange considering how effectively they played on the road during their title run a year ago. Wednesday’s contest is game number five of a six game road swing for Miami, a trip that has seen them lose three of the first four. The Heat have also found keeping up in the post a challenge, ranking 30th in the league in total rebounding. Taking into account the Warriors’ struggles against dominating big men, this bodes very well for Golden State’s chances at Oracle on Wednesday.
The big question for the Warriors entering their matchup with Miami is how they will fare without do-everything guard Stephen Curry, who has been ruled out due to the ankle sprain he suffered during the team’s loss to Denver. The Dubs will need a big game from David Lee or another member of their supporting cast to make up for Curry’s absence, and even that might not be enough. Playing without your best player is not often part of the recipe for beating a team like the Heat.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (23-13) vs. Miami Heat (24-12).
WHERE: Oracle Arena
WHEN: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., CSN Bay Area
AT STAKE: Warriors trying to avoid losing our out of five for the first time all season. A loss at the start of this key stretch isn’t ideal for Golden State.
PLAYER TO WATCH: David Lee. If Lee is truly the Warriors’ MVP (he certainly gets enough of the chants at Oracle Arena), he’ll get a chance to prove it tonight with Curry riding the bench.
PREDICTION: You don’t beat a team as talented as the Heat missing the player who makes your offense go. The Warriors will battle, but Miami wins this one 105-90.