Originally written on NorthWest Sports Beat  |  Last updated 1/9/13
The champs are here The Portland Trail Blazers will play host to the defending champion Miami Heat Thursday night, and they’ll likely be faced with their toughest competition of the 2012-13 season. Matchup: Portland (19-15) vs. Miami Heat (23-10) Venue: Rose Garden Time: 7:30 PM PT Date: Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 The Blazers are an impressive 12-4 at the Rose Garden this year, but they’ll need more than just home-court advantage to take down the star power of the Heat. Game Notes/How They Match Up The Blazers will need more than just home-court advantage to take down the Miami Heat. (Photo: Doug Beghtel/The Oregonian) At the beginning of the season, most assumed that the Blazers and the Heat would be on completely different planets by the time they faced off Jan. 10. The Heat had the Big Three and an NBA championship on their side, while the Blazers had questions about their future and a whole new rotation to adjust to. While it’s safe to say that Miami still has the edge, Portland has shown that they can play, and as a result, they’ve won 11 of their last 14 contests. Both of these teams have won games with their offense this season. The Blazers are 12th in the league in scoring while the Heat are fourth, but the bigger reason for this is that both squads have struggled on the defensive side of the floor. This game has the potential to be a shootout, and the Blazers just have to hope they have the firepower to keep up. What to Watch: Portland The big question in this game for Portland will be whether or not their starters can keep up with the starters of Miami. The Blazers have the highest scoring offense in the NBA when it comes to starting units. This bodes well for them any night of the week, but the reason their starters are so strong is because they’re forced to play well with their second unit playing so poorly. If any one of the Blazers’ starters has an off game, it’s going to spell trouble for a team that rarely finds points elsewhere. Damian Lillard is going to be a player to keep an eye on if you’re a fan of the Blazers. We saw the Los Angeles Lakers swarm the rookie point guard with bigger bodies and better defenders, and they successfully rattled the youngster to the tune of 11 points and four assists on just 4-of-17 shooting. The point guard has been fantastic this season, but when he struggles, the team needs points in other places. If Miami is smart enough to defend him the way L.A. did, it could really ruin the Blazers’ plans Thursday night. What to Watch: Miami The question for Miami in this game—as well as every other game they play this year—becomes, which defensive unit will show up? Will it be the one that took down the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals—and on Christmas day—or the one that gives up big numbers to mediocre offenses? The Heat are built for the postseason—this we all know. But they have the potential and the talent to dominate opponents night in and night out all 82 games of the regular season. Defensively, this team has the speed and strength they need to match up against any team in the league, but effort is the question with so many games to go before we can truly start thinking about the playoffs. Walace may be gone, but the key matchup between these two teams still falls on the SF position. (Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP) Key Matchup Nicolas Batum has been a much-improved player this season, and there’s no question that his matching up against LeBron James is going to garner the attention of the national media. Nicolas Batum is averaging career highs all over the stat sheet, but the refreshing part for fans in Rip City is that he finally looks like an integral part of the offense. He is running the pick-and-roll, he’s getting his teammates involved and he’s scoring in more diverse ways than simply waiting for the corner three. His defense has also looked solid, but he’s about to see his toughest assignment of the year against James. Physically, James has the advantage in this one by a long shot. Batum’s slender frame against James’ freakish linebacker-sized body isn’t even a contest, so the Blazers’ forward must be quicker and craftier on both ends of the floor. These two have gotten the best of each other before, and with this game being played on TNT, the cameras will be honed in on this battle all night long. Injury Report Portland: OUT—Meyers Leonard, DAY-TO-DAY—LaMarcus Aldridge Miami: DAY-TO-DAY—LeBron James Prediction The Blazers are on a roll at this point in the season, but while there aren’t many teams who could waltz into the Rose Garden and get a win, the Miami Heat are the defending champs for a reason. Blazers 95 – Miami 107 CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE BLAZERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!
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