THE STORY: The Miami Heat were the hottest team in the NBA heading into the All-Star break. With the Big Three healthy and dangerous as ever, the Heat will try to extend their winning streak to nine games as they kick off a West Coast trek Thursday night against the Portland Trail Blazers. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade nearly led the East to a come-from-behind win over their West counterparts in Sunday’s midseason showcase; now, they’ll refocus on their goal of finishing atop the conference standings. Portland is hovering around the .500 mark following a 104-95 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.
TV: 10:30 p.m. ET, TNT
ABOUT THE HEAT (27-7): Miami isn’t simply stringing together victories; it’s rolling over every team in its path. Each of the Heat’s eight consecutive wins have been by 12 points or more, a run of dominance that has the club ahead of Chicago by the narrowest of margins in the race for Eastern Conference supremacy. March should present a reasonable challenge for the Heat, who will play 10 of their 16 games this month away from Miami. That begins with Thursday’s game against the Trail Blazers, the opener of a three-game road swing.
ABOUT THE TRAIL BLAZERS (18-17): Portland came out flat in their first game of the second half, falling behind by 17 points at halftime against the Nuggets and never getting back into the game. The Blazers find themselves in a logjam in the Northwest Division, a half-game back of second-place Denver and just 1 1/2 games out of last place. Thursday marks the beginning of a three-game homestand for Portland, and building momentum will be critical with a grueling eight-game road trip kicking off in less than a week.
1. The road team has won six of the last seven head-to-head meetings.
2. The Heat lead the NBA at 103.7 points per game, and have averaged nearly 107 points over the course of their winning streak.
3. James averages 29.6 points. 9.6 rebounds and 7.6 assists in 16 career games against the Trail Blazers.
PREDICTION: Heat 111, Trail Blazers 97. CLICK HERE for 500 Handicappers Package FOR 5$