The NBA has nine games on the schedule for Friday, with one of the more compelling matchups taking place in South Beach. The Miami Heat, who are fighting for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, will play host to the red-hot Utah Jazz.
The Heat have been beset by injuries so far this season, and the injury report ahead of Friday’s game isn’t a clean one. Both Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro are questionable, which means Miami could be shorthanded again in this one.
The Jazz, meanwhile, are flying high. Utah crushed the defending champion Lakers in a statement win on Wednesday to pull to 26-6 on the year. The Jazz also happen to have the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the league, which means Utah has an inside track at the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Jazz are currently listed as 6.5-point favorites tonight in Miami after opening -5.5.
While the NBA is a star-heavy league, the Jazz have risen to the top of the standings playing a team-first style of basketball. Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are legitimate All-Stars that rank among the best players in the league at their respective positions, but neither player will likely garner much MVP consideration. As long as the Jazz continue to win, I would assume that neither guy could care less about the MVP.
The Jazz haven’t just been winning games. They’ve been winning them handily. Utah has lost just two games since January 8. That same stretch includes 22 victories. Incredibly, 19 of those 22 wins have come by double digits. The Jazz have been absolutely crushing their opponents on a nightly basis.
Utah struggled to live up to expectations last season, but that hasn’t been the case at all this year. Mike Conley is playing some of the best basketball of his career, while Bojan Bogdanovic has returned to full strength after missing the bubble due to a wrist injury. Jordan Clarkson has proven to be an incredibly useful commodity as a microwave scorer off the bench, while Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale have been happy to do the dirty work.
In news that should surprise nobody, Utah is the only team in the league in the top-five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Jazz are scoring 115.3 points per 100 possessions, which is good for fourth. They’re also allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions. The only team that has been more stingy defensively is the Lakers.
Just when it seems as though the Heat are starting to get healthy, another guy comes down with an injury. Goran Dragic returned after missing nine games with a sprained ankle for Miami’s win over Toronto earlier this week, but Herro has been dealing with a hip issue. Adebayo popped up on the injury report ahead of this game with a knee ailment.
Adebayo is obviously the more important player. If he’s out, Miami will have to rely on rookie Precious Achiuwa to start at center and deal with Gobert. Achiuwa is a solid prospect, but he’s likely not quite ready to handle the Stifle Tower for 35-plus minutes. Kelly Olynyk will also presumably be thrust into a larger role as a stopgap option in the middle.
Injuries and the quick turnaround from last season to this season are likely to blame for the Heat’s slow start. It’s also fair to suggest that Miami over-performed on their way to a surprise trip to the Finals last summer. Miami is only 15-17, but they’re still very much in the hunt for a postseason spot in the East.
They have stayed in the race thanks in large part to the excellent play of Jimmy Butler. Butler has picked up right where he left off a season ago. The 31-year-old is averaging 19.5 points, 7.8 assists, and 7.7 rebounds while logging 33 minutes a night. Butler has stepped it up so far this month, posting averages of 20.4 points, 8.8 assists, and 7.8 rebounds through 13 games in February.
Points have been hard to come by for this team. Miami is a disappointing 24th in the league in offensive rating, mustering just 105.6 points per 100 possessions. The only teams that have been less prolific in that regard are the Pistons, Rockets, Timberwolves, Thunder, Cavaliers, and Magic. The Heat do rank a respectable seventh in D-rating, however.
With the Heat potentially down two key players again tonight, this looks like a good spot to hop back on the Jazz’ bandwagon. Utah has been completely unstoppable of late, and there isn’t much reason to expect a shorthanded Miami team to throw them off-track.
Even if Herro and Adebayo both suit up, I think you can take the Jazz to cover the spread here. Utah is a league-best 24-8 against the spread so far in 2020-21, while the Heat (13-18-1) have one of the worst ATS records in the league. Take Utah -6.5 on the road on Friday night.
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