Grizzlies-Heat Preview

After a brutal stretch, the Miami Heat might have gotten their

swagger back by beating the two-time defending NBA champions.

The Heat look to carry the momentum from that critical victory

into Saturday as they try to avenge November’s last-second loss to

the visiting Memphis Grizzlies.

With reports of tears in the locker room following an 87-86 loss

to Chicago on Sunday, many questioned Miami’s toughness and its

chances of making a championship run.

Questions remained unanswered two days later when Portland came

into South Beach and beat the Heat 105-96, handing them a

season-worst fifth consecutive defeat.

Miami (44-21) entered Thursday night averaging 91.8 points

during its skid – 9.5 below its season mark – but used an

impressive defensive effort to avoid continuing its downward spiral

and beat the Los Angeles Lakers 94-88.

“We didn’t want to run away from this,” coach Erik Spoelstra

said after his team snapped the Lakers’ eight-game winning streak.

“We didn’t want to hide from any of this. We want to get better. We

want to make sure our game is right and ready when it really

counts.”

With the score tied and 1:29 remaining, Dwyane Wade stole the

ball from Kobe Bryant and set up LeBron James for a dunk to put

Miami up for good. Wade also blocked the 13-time All-Star’s 3-point

attempt with just over a minute left to help secure the win.

The Heat held Los Angeles to 40.0 percent from the field after

allowing their previous four opponents to shoot a combined 50.3

percent.

“We haven’t been doing enough, of late,” Wade said. “We haven’t

gotten the defensive stops, we haven’t gotten the loose balls.”

Wade scored eight of his 20 points in the fourth quarter while

James had 19 points, nine assists and eight rebounds as Miami

clinched a postseason berth with 17 games remaining – the earliest

it’s accomplished the feat in franchise history.

Chris Bosh also stepped up, recording his highest scoring output

in nearly a month with 24 points.

“I think for our mind and our psyche, it was very important,”

said Bosh, who added nine rebounds.

Avoiding a letdown might be key to the Heat’s psyche as well.

They suffered one when they faced the Grizzlies (36-30) on Nov. 20,

having a three-game win streak snapped with a 97-95 loss on Rudy

Gay’s buzzer-beating jumper.

Gay won’t be around for the rematch due to a shoulder injury,

but Wade will be after missing that last meeting with an injured

left wrist. He’s averaged 31.0 points in his last three home

matchups against the Grizzlies.

Memphis suffered a heartbreaking loss of its own Wednesday

night, 110-108 at home to New York on Carmelo Anthony’s last-second

shot. The Grizzlies trailed by as many as 17 points and 14 in the

fourth quarter.

“It was a tough game, but we showed resiliency and we had a

chance,” coach Lionel Hollins said.

The Grizzlies have won nine of 13 overall and remain in eighth

place in the Western Conference. Plus, they’ve been playing well on

the road, winning seven of 11 – the four losses were by an average

of 6.8 points.

Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Darrell Arthur all

scored at least 20 points Wednesday. Randolph also had 11 rebounds

for his team-leading 46th double-double.

The Grizzlies, 6-6 without Gay in the lineup this season, have

taken five of seven from Miami.