The Miami Heat realize they need to pick up their defensive intensity in order to be successful.
Considering their effort the last time they played the Phoenix Suns, that won’t take much.
Three weeks removed from allowing 47 points to Phoenix in the first quarter of an eventual blowout loss, Miami looks to make amends for one of it’s most embarrassing performances of the season when it hosts the high-powered Suns.
“It was an absolute eye-opener,” Heat coach Pat Riley said following the 111-93 defeat at U.S. Airways Center. “I’ve seen a lot of great quarters. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one exactly like that where a team hits nine 3s (actually eight). We didn’t play well, we didn’t play with great desire and we got our heads handed to us.”
This time around, Miami will come into the game with some defensive momentum — and Dwyane Wade.
Over the last three quarters of a 94-82 win Tuesday night against Memphis, the Heat held the Grizzlies to 52 points and 34 percent shooting. Wade, a late scratch with a bruised left shin in the Jan. 6 matchup with Phoenix, frustrated former teammate Eddie Jones into an 0-for-7 performance in Jones’ first game back at Miami since being traded from the Heat last summer.
“Coach did put a challenge out there for me to be more active on defense, to be more aware,” said Wade, who finished with 25 points, four rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals. “I know I’m a good defender. At times, I just take a rest. So he put a challenge on me not to take a rest.”
Shaquille O’Neal, who was held to a season-low eight points against the Suns, added 20 points and 15 rebounds for his third straight 20-point game. He will try to wear down what looks to be a seemingly lethargic Phoenix team that may still not have recovered from a 152-149 double-overtime loss at Seattle two games ago.
On Tuesday night, the Suns lost 111-102 at Orlando despite Shawn Marion’s 26 points and 16 rebounds and Steve Nash’s 22 points and 12 assists. But offense is rarely a problem for the league’s highest-scoring team at 106.2 points per game.
“It actually goes back to the Seattle game,” Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I don’t know if we think we can slug it out with people offensively or what, but we just can’t do that. We have to get back to some hard-nosed basketball and we’re going to do that.”
The Suns have let their last two opponents shoot better than 50 percent from the floor and have sent them to the free-throw line 68 times.
“We aren’t playing any defense at all right now,” Marion said. “It seems like we exert all our energy on offense and exert no energy on defense.”
Phoenix will be looking to sweep the Heat, who will be playing their 12th straight game against a Western Conference team, for the first time since the 2000-01 season.