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Game Preview: Suns go for 4th straight win against visiting Heat

Both the Suns and Heat are winning on scrap, claw and shot-making.

Phoenix Suns v Miami Heat Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

What: Miami Heat (5-2) at Phoenix Suns (5-2)

When: 7:00 p.m. AZ time

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


The Suns and Heat both look to extend their early-season success in a Thursday night tilt in the valley.

Read on for notes on the return of the Dragon, a hero for Herro and how the Heat are winning their games. There’s a lot to unpack with a Heat-Suns game, so give me a couple of minutes of your time before tip-off to get through it all.

Projected Starters

Between the two teams, only 2 of 10 starters (Booker, Oubre) were in their team’s starting lineup the last time these teams faced off.

Deandre Ayton is still suspended for 25 games (19 more) until we hear otherwise.

Who are these Heat guys?

Like the Suns, the 5-2 Heat were expected to be worse than they are. They sent mixed messages this summer, trading for multiple-time All-Star Jimmy Butler while at the same time shuffling their roster to the point that three rookies are key cogs in the rotation.

Are they trying to win right now or not? Of course, they’re trying to win!

Gone are Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson, Dwyane Wade and (in spirit) Dion Waiters and James Johnson. In are All-Star Butler, veteran Meyers Leonard and rookies Tyler Herro (13.7 points per game), Kendrick Nunn (18.3) and Duncan Robinson (10), to join returnees Goran Dragic, Justice Winslow and Bam Adebayo.

Herro was a first round pick, while Nunn and Robinson were picked off the free agent scrap heap this summer by nugget-finder Pat Riley.

Dragic, Butler, Winslow and Adebayo, along with coach Erik Spoelstra, are a great core to build a scrappy and hard-working identity around.

As a whole, these guys are winning with the league’s fourth-best defense, play at the seventh-fastest pace and have the highest rate of getting to the free throw line. Their defense is fueled by steals (fourth) and blocks (fourth) while holding their opponents to a second-worst three-point percentage (27.8 percent).

The Heat have statement wins so far over the Bucks and Rockets, while also beating the Hawks (twice) and Grizzlies.

The Suns will have their hands full with the Heat, who will likely finish the season somewhere around the No. 3 seed in the East.

Return of the Dragon

Hey now! We get to see Goran Dragic again tonight. “The Dragon,” now 33 years old, is a flamethrower off the bench these days for the surging Heat. He’s the only player among the top eight in the rotation that hasn’t started a game yet, even while Jimmy Butler (two games) and Justice Winslow (three games) missed time.

Dragic is raking though: he’s averaging 15.4 points and 4.6 assists off the bench, making 41 percent of his threes, in 27 minutes per game game.

Let’s hear a warm cheer for the Dragon when he subs into the game mid-first quarter!

More reunions

For the Suns, backup guard Tyler Johnson has great memories of his former team and likely wants to have a very good game just for grins. Johnson was the starting point guard for the Suns after being traded to Phoenix for Ryan Anderson last January, and helped the Suns go on that 5-2 run that started with a win over his former team.

For the Heat, the Dragon is joined by Derrick Jones Jr. (Airplane Mode) in the Heat rotation off the bench. DJJ has been in and out of the Heat rotation, but played in recent games and has a lot of skills if you don’t count the shooting part. But with Butler and Winslow as the primaries on the wing along with the rookie shooters, DJJ has had some tough sledding to get regular playing time.

Herro has a hero

Remember the early years with Devin Booker googley-eyeing the game’s best shooting guards?

Booker scored 34 points in that first matchup against the Heat’s Dwyane Wade as he was finishing out his rookie campaign.

Now, as he enters his fifth year in the league, the tables have turned and it’s Booker who’s getting the googlies.

Miami Heat rookie guard Tyler Herro is shooting his way into Heat fans’ hearts, but part of his own heart already belongs to Booker.

So far, so good for Herro. His rookie stats are remarkably similar to Booker’s up and down the line. Booker was a bit more productive per minute, while Herro grabs a few more rebounds.

Let’s see how they fare head to head tonight in Phoenix.

Not another 5-2 run?!

This isn’t the first time a combination of Kelly Oubre Jr., Tyler Johnson, Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges experienced a 5-2 run that included beating each Conference leader.

Just last Feb-March, the young Suns went on a two-week rant that included wins over conference leaders Milwaukee and Golden State. At the high point of their run, they were top-10 in both offense and defense.

The run began with a win over Miami to break a 17-game losing streak, two weeks after acquiring Tyler Johnson from the Heat for Ryan Anderson, and ended with a win over Golden State. The Suns common-four (mentioned above) were joined by Deandre Ayton and Josh Jackson as the top six players in the rotation. But the run ended as soon as Oubre and Johnson went down to injury.

Let’s hope this year’s Suns keep it going for longer.

Key matchup — Baynes vs. Bam

In last December’s matchup in Phoenix, young center Bam Adebayo had his way with Deandre Ayton. Bam scored 22 points (10 on free throws) and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Heat cruised to an easy victory. Rookie Ayton had a good game on the box score (16 and 11) but was not the impact player that Bam was.

This year, the athletic Bam goes up against tough-as-nails-but-more-stationary Baynes instead of the Masked Offender. Baynes will make life tougher on Bam, who is blitzing through the early schedule with a game not dissimilar to Baynes’.

Here’s the tale of the tape so far

Bam rebounds and blocks shots better, but Baynes shoots the three ball a lot more. Both are surprisingly good passers/playmakers out of the post position.

Stats

All stats via basketball-reference.com

Prediction

Jimmy Butler is a handful to say the least. Justise Winslow is a beast at the wing who can pass, rebound and defend. Bam is Bam. The Dragon always plays well in Phoenix. The Heat rookies are flamethrowers.

But I’m feeling good about this Suns team, and now that the home court is so lively and supportive I do believe the Suns have a home court advantage that will help propel them to a victory.

Suns win, 115-105


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