Fast Forward: Protecting the ball premium as W's visit LeBron, Heat

Warriors look to keep hot streak alive in South Beach

Fast Forward: Protecting the ball premium as W's visit LeBron, Heat
January 2, 2014, 12:30 pm
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LeBron James turned 29 years old on Monday, he has won the MVP Award in four of the last five seasons. (USATSI)

Programming note: Warriors-Heat coverage tips off Thursday at 4 p.m. with Warriors Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (territorial restrictions apply)

The first priority for the streaking Warriors on Thursday at Miami is not rebounding or superb outside shooting or even playing terrific defense. Having a chance to defeat the two-time champs requires, above all, taking care of the ball.

That has been sore spot for the Warriors (21-13), who commit more turnovers than every NBA team except Philadelphia. The Heat (24-7) lead the league in forcing turnovers.

"For us, it's about not turning the ball over, having great possessions at both ends and just trying to put together a great 48 minutes,'' point guard Stephen Curry said.

That the Heat pose a load of challenges, beginning with MVP LeBron James, is something fully acknowledged by Warriors coach Mark Jackson.

"They're the champs and they have the best player in the world -- along with a future Hall of Famer and in my opinion the third-best shooting guard that's ever played the game in Dwyane Wade.

"We’re playing great, but this is a team that creates a lot of problems."

Miami does not have a gallery of great shooters or tremendous size. It is the absolute worst rebounding team in the NBA. The Heat win with defense, by disrupting offenses, forcing turnovers and cranking up a scorching transition game.

They live to take away the ball, turn the game into a sprint and win by 25.

"You can't get caught up in the hype and all their athleticism and their high-flying dunks," Klay Thompson said.

The Warriors have won six in a row, their longest streak in more than six years. To keep it going, they'll have to avoid getting up in the Heat's hurricane-force defensive pressure.

KEY MATCHUPS: Andre Iguodala vs. LeBron James. Jackson concedes that Iguodala can't stop James, because no one can. Iguodala will be the first line of defense against the league's best blend of speed and strength. It takes a village to contain James.

"You do it collectively," Jackson said. "You can't give one guy the challenge to slow him down. He's that great of a player."

Klay Thompson vs. Dwyane Wade. Wade in many ways is a smaller version of James, capable of powering into the paint or pulling up for the jumper. Thompson will have to use his length to cut off angles in hopes of staying in front of D-Wade.

David Lee vs. Chris Bosh. Lee has been playing well, but Bosh is a handful. He can go on the block or hang around the perimeter because he's comfortable shooting 3-pointers. Lee can bother Bosh, and beat him up and down the court, which should neutralize his effectiveness.

SERIES HISTORY: The Warriors have lost five of their last seven against the Heat, and seven of their last 10 in Miami. The Warriors were 97-95 winners in their last trip to Miami -- the first time since 2003 they went on the road and defeated the defending NBA champion.

INJURY UPDATE: Warriors: Centers Jermaine O'Neal (right wrist surgery) and Festus Ezeli (right knee surgery) are not with the team.

Heat: Guard Dwayne Wade (back), guard Norris Cole (nose) and forward Chris Andersen (back) are listed as day to day. Though Andersen practiced on Wednesday, Wade did not.