Miami Heat

Western Conference road trip crucial for Heat

Warriors guard Stephen Curry will pose a challenge to Chris Andersen and the Heat when they meet next Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015.
Warriors guard Stephen Curry will pose a challenge to Chris Andersen and the Heat when they meet next Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015. El Nuevo Herald

Eight days in California sounds like a good vacation for most. For the Heat, it will be a critical work trip, one that will determine whether they will climb up the Eastern Conference standings or at least temporarily slide out of the final playoff spot.

After beginning the trip in Oregon with a Thursday night TNT-televised game against Portland, the Heat will spend a bit over a week in California, with games against the Clippers, Lakers, Warriors and Kings.

“This is good for us, to be on the road 10 days and have five games,” Dwyane Wade said. “At least you get to spread it out. It’s a good challenge. These teams are playing very well. You don’t want to come back from this road trip and be 10 games under .500.”

At 15-20, Miami will begin the trip being chased by Indiana, Boston, Orlando and Detroit for the final playoff spot. A successful trip could help the Heat surpass No. 7 Brooklyn, which entered Thursday at 16-18, or No.6 Milwaukee, which began the day 18-18.

A look at what awaits on this trip:

▪ Thursday at Portland: LaMarcus Aldridge (who is sixth in the league in scoring at 23.0 per game, to go along with 10.6 rebounds) and Damian Lillard (22.2 points, 6.4 assists) have spearheaded the Blazers to the second-best record in the conference (27-8), including 16-3 at home.

Wes Matthews (16.6 points per game) is questionable for Thursday’s game with a hyper-extended knee. And the Blazers are allowing 97 points per game, second-best in the league behind Indiana.

▪ Sunday at the Clippers: The Heat can’t afford a repeat of its first-quarter meltdown against Los Angeles on Nov.20, when the Clippers blitzed the Heat 39-15 and coasted to a 110-93 win. Much of the damage was done by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, who each scored 26, with Paul adding 12 assists.

Chris Bosh scored 28 that night, but the Heat played without Wade. Griffin is ninth in the league in scoring at 22.5, and Paul is fourth in assists at 9.5.

▪ Tuesday at the Lakers: This could be the most winnable game on this trip, with the Lakers entering Wednesday with the second-worst record in the West (11-24) and just 5-12 at home.

Kobe Bryant is fifth in the league in scoring at 23.6 points per game. But the Lakers are allowing 108.1 points per game, second-worst in the league, better than only Minnesota.

▪ Wednesday at Golden State: Playing without Wade, the Heat led by two points with seven minutes remaining in their matchup Nov.25 in Miami before the Warriors scored 14 in a row and emerged with a 115-97 win.

Stephen Curry scored 40 points on 12-of-19 shooting that night, including an absurd 8 of 11 on three-pointers, with Klay Thompson chipping in 24. Curry entered Wednesday sixth in the league in scoring at 23.0 per game.

▪ Jan. 16 at Sacramento: The Kings opened 5-1 but lost 19 of their next 28.

Sacramento has received good work from center DeMarcus Cousins, who’s averaging 23.5 points and 12.1 rebounds, forward Rudy Gay (20.5 points per game) and point guard Darren Collison (16.4 points, 5.9 assists).

But the Kings are allowing 104.4 points per game, fourth-highest in the league.

“It’s a tough trip and that’s just what we need right now,” Bosh said.

BIRDMAN ADJUSTS

Chris Andersen has started 10 games in a row after starting only 10 combined in his first 12 seasons. And Andersen said the adjustment has gone smoothly.

“It’s the same mentality as if I was coming off the bench,” he said.

Andersen is averaging 22.7 minutes in his 10 starts, compared with 19.4 minutes as a Heat reserve last season and 14.9 two seasons ago. But he said he’s not trying to pace himself.

“There’s no holding back my energy levels,” he said. “I play hard regardless. And when I feel I need a break, then I will let coach know. When I exert myself and get to my second wind faster, I’m capable of playing longer minutes.”

Andersen is averaging 7.8 points and 5.9 rebounds as a starter.

▪ Coach Erik Spoelstra said the Heat released guard Andre Dawkins a day before his contract became guaranteed in order to gain roster flexibility.

He said the Heat’s one open roster spot “could be filled at any time [but] nothing is imminent.” The Heat has a $2.65 million disabled player exception.

Thursday: Heat at Trail Blazers

When/where: 10:30 p.m., Moda Center, Portland.

TV/radio: TNT; WAXY 104.3 FM; 790 AM; WAQI 710 AM (Spanish)

Series: Portland leads 33-18 all-time. The teams meet March 18 in Miami.

Notable: Portland is 16-3 at home, the Heat 8-8 on the road… Center Justin Hamilton said he’s ready to play after missing nine games with a concussion…. Portland starting center Robin Lopez remains out until at least late January with a fractured hand.

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