MIAMI – The Heat return home after their longest road trip of the season for four games beginning Tuesday against the Rockets.
The home stand – and three days off before its start – comes at a good time with Miami (11-30) just concluding a 1-5 trip and having lost 10 of its last 11 games.
Here are three things to watch.
The start of the second half: The first half of the season ended like it has gone for most of the way, with a loss at Milwaukee. The second half starts Tuesday with a four-game homestand. In fact, the second half schedule is more forgiving. The Heat will play 23 of their 41 games at home and are done with their trips to the west coast. Miami’s farthest road game the rest of the season is in Minneapolis. The biggest issue will continue to be health. Justise Winslow (shoulder) and Josh McRoberts (foot) are expected to miss the rest of the season. Josh Richardson now is considered week-to-week with his sprained foot. Look for forward Okaro White to be added to the roster this week as the Heat are expected to receive an additional roster spot,
First look at James Harden: The Heat already have faced Russell Westbrook twice and now the closest thing to Westbrook, Houston’s James Harden, comes to Miami on Tuesday. Harden has been a different player – and 32-11 Houston a different team – since first-year Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni moved the 6-foot-5 Harden to point guard. Harden’s 12 triple doubles are second to Westbrook’s 20. Nobody else in the league has more than three. Harden is third in the league with 28.4 points per game, leads the league with 11.7 assists per game and is averaging 8.2 rebounds. And the Rockets are rewriting the 3-point record book, attempting 40 a game while making 15. Houston has missed more 3-pointer than any other team has attempted.
Dirk’s last dance?: Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki is the anti Dwyane Wade. Nowitzki has been with the Mavericks his entire 19 year career and when it came to free agency last summer he decided to take the team’s offer and sign a one-year $25 million contract to finish out his career in Dallas. Nowitzki has missed all but 14 games because of a sore Achilles tendon this year and has said he could decide to retire if the injuries prove to be too much, which would make Thursday his final game in Miami. Nowitzki is averaging 13.5 points and 5.5 rebounds, his lowest numbers since his rookie season of 1998-99. Nowitzki has a history with the Heat. He has played in two NBA Finals – both against the Heat – winning one. His career averages in 34 games against Miami pretty much are in line with his overall averages – 23.0 points, 6.9 rebounds. He was the 2011 Finals MVP after averaging 26.0 points and 9.7 rebounds while denying the Heat the title in the first year of the Big 3.