Heat at Orlando: 5 things to watch

Howard and WadeKim Klement/US Presswire

Dwight Howard will be awaiting a slashing Dwyane Wade at the rim.

Taking advantage of Orlando's thin front line

Magic starting power forward Brandon Bass sprained his left ankle in Monday's game against Memphis, an injury that will keep him out of Thursday night's game against Miami. That leaves an already-thin Orlando frontcourt even more depleted, with Dwight Howard, Ryan Anderson and a hobbled Malik Allen as the only true Magic big men. How can the Heat expose this lack of depth? "It would obviously be ideal if we can get Dwight Howard into foul trouble," Erik Spoelstra said following the Heat's Wednesday practice. Spoelstra qualified this statement by saying that he doesn't anticipate his team necessarily posting up the Magic to draw the fouls. His preferred strategy is to scramble the defense by getting the Magic off-balance and out of position, then unleashing his attackers -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- to the rim, though the Heat might also post Bosh up selectively.

Dealing with Dwight Howard

Though Heat center Erick Dampier has played sparingly in recent weeks, he's likely to play meaningful minutes as part of the Committee to Contain Dwight Howard. "What's going to happen, more likely, is that it'll be a three-center game," Spoelstra said. "[Howard] commands so much attention that it's hard not to get into foul trouble, and that's the luxury that we have." Whoever is out there for the Heat at the 5 will still have to contend with Howard, both on the block and in pick-and-roll situations. One of those Heat centers, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, described the challenge of defending Howard down on the block. "He's got enough to be the best center in the league as far as I'm concerned," Ilgauskas said. "You just try to prevent that first dribble. When he puts that shoulder down, you just have to meet him, take the first hit and try to push him as far as you can and get him into his hooks. If you can make him shoot his hooks -- he's gotten a lot better, but you have to limit his dunks because that's a 100 percent shot." Difficult as Howard is to slow in the low post, he might be even more lethal on pick-and-rolls. "When Dwight rolls to the hole, we have a team defense, so the guys have to check him and protect until I recover," Ilgauskas said. "Guarding pick-and-rolls and guarding Dwight -- one guy can't do it. You have to have team defense."

Will we see point-less lineups?

When it comes to Heat-Magic games, Mike Miller and Hedo Turkoglu could potentially send the point guard position into extinction. Sure, Jameer Nelson and Mario Chalmers will get the starting nods, but there’s a good chance that their ball-handling skills will become superfluous over the course of the game. Say Miller enters the game for Chalmers -- does Stan van Gundy trust Jameer Nelson to guard Dwyane Wade? On Sunday, Oklahoma City coach Scotty Brooks was comfortable letting 6-foot-3 Russell Westbrook take on Wade defensively, but Nelson needs heels if he wants to stand that tall. But the Magic can counter. If they can stomach some misfires on the offensive end, they can go with Gilbert Arenas. Or they could go unconventional and let Turkoglu take over point guard duties. Turkoglu’s positional flexibility becomes essential when the Magic go head-to-head with the Heat, and we could see the first Redick-Richardson-Turkoglu-Anderson-Howard lineup of the season. Basketball junkies everywhere won’t want to miss it.

Reversing the settle trend

Sometimes the best way to grade the effect of a defensive post presence is to ignore the box score all together and bust out the shot chart. And from the looks of it, the Heat appear to feel a bit skittish about entering Howard’s domain. How can we tell? In their first meeting, the Heat fired off a season-high 37 long 2s from 16-23 feet, according to Hoopdata.com. And in the second matchup, the Heat chucked up another 28 shots from just inside the arc. Those numbers rank above their norm of 25 attempts (which leads the NBA). Living in the midrange area is typically a losing strategy, and that’s a big reason why Howard is so disruptive even if he’s not blocking shots; he forces teams to settle for looks in the most inefficient area on the floor. But the Heat are improving in this department as they incorporate Miller into the lineup. The Heat are recognizing the rising opportunity cost of taking a bad shot, and they’ve started to consistently run their sets past the first option.

Jason Richardson vs. Dwyane Wade

Richardson isn't your prototypical shooting guard and he presents unique challenges, even for a capable defender like Wade. In addition to being one of the best rebounding wings in the league, and a potent option coming off curls and pin-downs, Richardson loves to post up opposing 2-guards. Though he's gotten off to a slow start in that capacity in Orlando, he has consistently ranked among the better post-up guards in the league in recent years. "He's a guy who's very strong, very physical and very athletic who can get his shot," Wade said. "You stick to your principles. Our scheme is never one-on-one. You always have to see other guys and I'm a pretty good post defender, and my biggest thing is to make a guy take a turnaround shot so I can contest it." In some sense, Richardson has emerged as a bellwether for the Magic. He has been slumping of late, but if he's able to get good looks in the half court, the Magic become much more difficult to defend. On the other side of the ball, Wade has a decisive advantage. He's far too quick for Richardson to stay in front of one-on-one. Orlando is one of the best help defenses in the league and will need every bit of assistance to keep a hyperaggressive Wade from slicing through its defensive front line -- even with Howard waiting at the rim.