Friday Night NBA Action: Miami Heat at Utah Jazz

The Utah Jazz (16-18, 13-6 home) have undoubtedly been one of the poorest performing teams on the road this season, which is a big reason they’ll be happy to spend one more game at EnergySolutions Arena before heading back out on the road for a 5-game stretch. Unfortunately for the Jazz, they’ll have to contend with the hottest team in the NBA right now, the Miami Heat (28-7, 13-5 away), who have been one of the best road teams in basketball and come into tonight’s match-up on a 9-game winning streak.

For tonight’s 9:00 PM ET tip-off in Salt Lake City, there are a number of notable absences for both teams which could have a big impact on how this game is played out. First, the Heat’s Chris Bosh (18.4 points/game, 8.3 rebounds/game) will be out for the second straight night due to family related issues. However, that didn’t seem to have any major effect on Miami’s ability to put up points, as in last night’s game in Portland the scoring came in droves via 30+ point nights from both LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. Miami, sans Bosh, continued on its systematic dismantling of the opposition last night, beating the Trail Blazers 107-93, while maintaining their run of winning each game during their 9-game streak by double digit margins. In fact, in their last 6 road games specifically, the Heat are beating teams by an average of 18 points, which speaks volumes to the elite level Miami is playing at away from their own house. That doesn’t make for an easy task facing Utah tonight, as their depleted line-up is suffering from key absences, most notably with Paul Millsap (15.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg) questionable for tonight’s match-up with a severely bruised heel. Millsap has been one of the brightest spots for Utah this year and against Miami, he averaged north of 30 points/game last season against them, and had his career high game with 46 points at Miami back in late 2010. With Bosh out, getting Millsap back in the lineup would be a huge boost for the Jazz, but if Millsap can’t go, or isn’t at %100 (a more likely situation), Utah will find themselves especially limited in their scoring with Raja Bell (7.4 ppg) still out one more game, and Devin Harris (9.6 ppg, 4.6 assists/game) also looking to be shy of %100 as he comes back from illness. Utah needs all its scoring assets available tonight, and with that not looking likely, the Jazz need big step-ups from their bench in order to hang with the high-scoring Heat.

One other big concern for the Jazz, aside from how they are going to get enough points to contend with a Miami team that is averaging 103.1 points on the road, is how their defense is going to be able to slow down that offensive juggernaut led by LeBron James (27.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 6.8 apg) and Dwayne Wade (22.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 5.0 apg). Utah gives up the 9th most points in the league to opposing offenses (97.4 points/game), while scoring just higher at home (99.6 ppg), and in games where they’ve allowed the opposition to score over 100 points on their home court, they are 2-3 on the season. As Utah has been able to remain competitive when defense is good, going 8-2 in games where their opponents score 95 points or less, the Jazz have to find a way to slow down the pace of the game tonight, and avoid getting into a fast-break, quick-rhythm game against Miami. We know that Miami can score huge points on the road even without their best rebounder and third-best scorer in the line-up, and that the Heat can expect both LeBron James and Dwayne Wade to carry the scoring load between them on any given night. Therefore, one of these two leaders must be slowed down in order for Utah to stand a chance at winning. That puts extra pressure on Josh Howard (8.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg), who has the unenviable assignment of guarding LeBron James tonight, and Gordon Hayward (9.5 ppg, 3.1 apg), tasked with shadowing Dwayne Wade. Make no mistake though, these aren’t the only defensive assignments that have to be kept in check tonight; Miami point guard Mario Chalmers (11.1 ppg) is consistently shooting lights out on the year at over 51 percent from the floor and nearly 46 percent from 3-pt range, and Udonis Haslem (6.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg) comes off a double-double performance last night, and looks set for another solid fill-in performance with Chris Bosh out.

For Utah to prevail in tonight’s game, they need big output on both sides of the ball from center Al Jefferson (18.7 ppg, 9.4 rpg) first and foremost, who once again will probably be asked to do too much. Jefferson has been huge for Utah lately, pulling down 7 double-doubles in his last 9 games, but it’s evident that Utah needs more contribution outside of the big man, as the Jazz have lost 6 of their last 9 games. C.J. Miles (9.7 ppg) could provide a good boost tonight coming off a season-high 27 point outing in the win against Houston on Wednesday night, and the rookie Gordon Hayward looks for his third straight double-digit scoring performance in this evening’s contest as well. A balanced offense is key for Utah with their scoring depth looking likely to be depleted once again, and against a Miami defense that has been overshadowed by their offensive output (the Heat D is giving up just 90.6 points/game over their 9-game winning streak), every point is going to be important tonight. Miami will certainly collapse on Al Jefferson first and foremost with Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony tasked with shoring up the paint, and LeBron James and Dwayne Wade will definitely give problems to Josh Howard and Gordon Hayward all night long on defense, but these Jazz players have to find a way to overcome, or risk being embarrassed in front of a home crowd much the way that Portland was last night against Miami.

Top Sportsbook Betting Lines for the Miami Heat at Utah Jazz, at Bookmaker Sportsbook

Given the fact that both of these teams are currently trending in entirely different directions with Miami winning 9 straight and Utah losing 6 of their last 9, it’s somewhat surprising to see Miami as only a -205 favorite to win on the money line, while Utah sits as a +175 underdog with the home court advantage. It’s certainly true that Miami is playing on back-to-back nights after traveling from Portland, and they’ll be without Chris Bosh, a key component in their inside game, but with Utah suffering even worse from injuries and facing a Heat team that is putting up huge offensive numbers, the relatively lower odds on Miami could be a solid wager in tonight’s game, for you straight up pickers.

Another favorable option lies with the spread, as Miami is just a 4 point favorite at -110 odds. As previously mentioned, Miami’s 9-game winning streak has found them beating teams each night by double digits, and their performance in Portland last night showed that even without their most productive big man, they still have an ability to beat a good team on the road by 14 points. With Utah as only a +4 point underdog even at home where they have by far played their best ball of the season, it’s likely not worth chasing with the hottest team in the NBA in town.

Onto the total points tonight, the over/under sits at 197, which could be a tough pick to make. If Utah is able to keep their home scoring going against an continually improving Heat defense (such as Wednesday’s 104 point performance against Houston), this game should surpass the total points margin. However, if Utah struggles to score and Miami controls the game, look for Miami to be over 100 points, but Utah to drag down the final score under the mark to beat at 197.

Our Pick to Win:

While Utah should have a much better game plan for Miami than Portland did last night against the Heat, I find it concerning that Utah has a team suffering from key injuries and/or sickness, and while a couple of players could be in action tonight, without %100 efforts from Paul Millsap, Devon Harris and Raja Bell likely (if they all even play) it’s going to be a very high risk wager taking Utah to win, or even cover the points spread. There’s no doubt that the Jazz will play their hearts out tonight in one of the bigger games on the schedule at home, and that the home crowd should play a role in giving the understaffed Jazz a boost, but will the improved recent play of Al Jefferson and C.J. Miles be enough in the face of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade? There’s always the chance of Miami falling back to earth a bit, and suffering a loss tonight, and I’m not doubting that on their best day Utah can beat the Heat especially at home. But this isn’t a Jazz team at their best, and they’re set to be short-handed against arguably the best team in the NBA. That said, this is the Heat’s game to lose tonight, and my best prediction says they won’t. Miami keeps their streak alive at 10 straight games, beating the Jazz 103-95.

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