Wednesday night’s match up between the Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies was a battle between two very different styles of play. Miami plays small and fast in what has been termed a “space and pace” system. Memphis plays a slow, ground and pound style that takes advantage of their two talented big men, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Despite playing at a faster pace than normal, Memphis was able to impose their physical style of play on Miami, defeating the Heat 107-102.
One of the keys to the game was rebounding. Miami came into the game ranked last in the NBA in rebounding, averaging just 37 per game. Adding to the Heat’s rebounding issues were the players missing from their lineup. Udonis Haslem, Chris Anderson and Greg Oden all missed Wednesday’s game with various ailments. Memphis was able to take advantage, out-rebounding Miami 41-27.
Randolph grabbed 11 of these rebounds to go along with his 25 points. With so many frontcourt players out of their lineup, the Heat were forced to put Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis on Randolph defensively. Randolph overpowered both Battier and Lewis, especially early in the game. He went 8-8 in the first quarter, scoring 17 points. When the Heat began doubling Randolph, players like Courtney Lee and Mike Conley were left open. Lee and Conley combined for 44 points including several back-breaking threes.
Despite being outmatched physically, the Heat held an eight point advantage midway through the third quarter. Then, Miami became stagnant offensively. The quick passing and spacing that was shown in the first 30 minutes vanished and the Grizzlies’ defense was able to slow down Miami’s hot shooting.
By the end of the third quarter, Memphis had tied the game 80-80. The Grizzlies then used a 12-2 run to jump ahead of Miami in the fourth quarter. Conley put the final nail in the coffin, hitting two three-pointers to give Memphis a 10 point lead. The Heat closed the margin late, but the outcome was never in doubt.
For the Heat, the loss was their second in two days. Both losses were physically taxing, especially for LeBron James. James has averaged over 42 minutes per game in his last four outings. At a point in the season where the Heat would prefer to rest James, injuries to Dwyane Wade and the team’s overall poor play has forced Miami to play him heavy minutes.
The Heat will have to put their disappointing back-to-back behind them and turn their focus to Friday’s game against the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers have once again pulled ahead of the Heat for first place in the Eastern Conference after beating the Milwaukee Bucks. Miami will hope to get several of their rotation players back for this crucial contest. If not, they will have to rely on big minutes from James yet again.