Dec 12, 2022; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) dribbles the ball while Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard (2) defends in the second half at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Heat at Rockets- Dec. 15

The Rockets will try for their first three-game winning streak of the season on Thursday when they host the Miami Heat at Toyota Center. In winning back-to-back games, the Rockets have held two title contenders, Milwaukee and Phoenix, under 100 points. They have not held a team below 100 points for three straight games since March 2019.

Eye on the Heat

Record: 14-15 (Ninth in Eastern Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 109.2 (27th)

Defensive rating (rank): 110.8 (7th)

The Heat arrive at Toyota Center winners of three out of their last four games, following Wednesday’s 110-108 win in Oklahoma City. Tyler Herro scored 35 and hit the game-winning bucket with 4.9 seconds on the clock. Miami has started the season slow after an Eastern Conference Finals appearance last spring, and much of that has to do with Jimmy Butler’s absence. The Tomball native is averaging a team-best 21.7 points per game but has missed 11 of Miami’s 29 games. Herro is averaging 20.2 points per game after signing a $120 million contract before the season, but an ankle injury forced him to miss eight games in November, and the Heat went 3-5 without him.

Matchup to watch: Rockets offense vs Miami’s zone defense

No team plays zone more than the Heat, and no team faces zone less often than the Rockets. Per Synergy Sports, the Heat play zone on 27.9% of their defensive possessions, while the Rockets have faced zone on just 2.5% of their possessions this season. The Rockets are scoring 1.043 points per possession against zone, eighth best in the NBA, but that’s in a very limited sample, and. Miami’s zone defense is holding teams to 0.89 points per possession, and teams are shooting just 41% against it. The Rockets’ ability to get good shots against the zone defense will go a long way in deciding who wins Thursday’s game.

What I’m watching for

The Heat won in Oklahoma City on Wednesday without Jimmy Butler, and we won’t know until Thursday afternoon who will play against the Rockets.

“We want to be smart as we handle these back-to-backs,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said Wednesday according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Butler is expected to play Thursday, but the jury is out on 36-year-old Kyle Lowry, who played 29 minutes of Miami’s 110-108 win over the Thunder. Same goes for former Rocket Victor Oladipo after he logged 31 minutes on Wednesday. The Spurs were down Devin Vassell and Jakob Poeltl when they beat the Rockets last week, Khris Middleton left Sunday’s game in the first half, and the Suns played without Devin Booker the entire night and Deandre Ayton in the second against the Rockets on Tuesday, so it’s been a while since they’ve faced a team at full strength.

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