Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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NBA Preview: Portland Trail Blazers (19-54) at Miami Heat (39-33)

The NBA’s schedule makers have handed the Miami Heat an apparent gift.

On Friday night, Miami (39-33) will host the Portland Trail Blazers, who are on an eight-game losing streak. Portland (19-54) has the fifth-worst record in the league.

It looks like a layup for the Heat, who can use an easy win. Miami has gone just 4-7 in its past 11 games, and that slump has knocked the Heat — at least temporarily — out of a top-six playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

Miami is now in seventh place, which puts the Heat in position for the play-in round.

The Heat are coming off a 113-92 home loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday.

The Heat were without their best player, Jimmy Butler, who was out due to an illness. Butler leads the Heat in scoring (21.4) and steals (1.4). He also gets to the foul line a team-high 7.9 times per game, and his ability to score in the clutch fuels many Heat wins.

Miami’s other active star is Bam Adebayo, who is averaging 19.7 points and a team-high 10.6 rebounds.

But injuries have hit the Heat hard as Tyler Herro (foot injury) has missed 16 straight games. He is averaging 20.8 points, and the Heat miss his perimeter shooting.

In addition, the Heat have been without Duncan Robinson (back) for the past four games and Kevin Love (foot) for 14 in a row. Josh Richardson is out for the season.

Robinson, like Herro, gives Miami excellent perimeter shooting, and Love provides the Heat with a quality power forward off the bench.

But for all the Heat’s recent troubles, they will get no sympathy from the Trail Blazers, who started five rookies on Saturday, losing 114-111, to the reigning NBA-champion Denver Nuggets.

Since the NBA started tracking starting lineups 52 years ago, this was only the second all-rookie lineup, joining Golden State in 2012.

The Trail Blazers then made more history by starting an all-rookie lineup for a second time against the Houston Rockets on Monday, becoming the first team to start nothing but rookies multiple times in one season.

Portland’s five rookie starters are Scoot Henderson, Duop Reath, Kris Murray, Toumani Camara and Rayan Rupert — the team’s starting lineup for a third time in its 120-106 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday.

Like the Heat, the Blazers are missing several injured standouts. Portland’s list includes Deandre Ayton (elbow); Anfernee Simons (knee); Malcolm Brogdon (elbow); and Jerami Grant (hamstring). In addition, Robert Williams III, who started 97 games for the Boston Celtics over the past five years, is out for the season due to a knee injury.

Portland’s rising star is Henderson, the third pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

A 6-3 point guard, Henderson is averaging 13.2 points and 4.9 assists, shooting 82.7 percent from the foul line.

After averaging just 8.3 points over his first two months in the league, Henderson has been averaging double figures ever since. That includes a season-high 18.3 points in February and 14.5 points this month.

Henderson is also becoming a team leader at age 20, talking to the media like a seasoned pro.

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