Charlotte Hornets at Miami HEAT Game Preview

The Miami HEAT host the Charlotte Hornets Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. The game is presented by Miami Cancer Institute at Baptist Health South Florida. Get your tickets now! The HEAT defeated the Hornets 112-99 in their last meeting on April 5. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: What did we learn from Miami’s close loss in Orlando?

Couper Moorhead: Even though this wound up being a loss, it’s preseason and the most important thing was that this was something off a fresh-air game in that everyone looked aggressive and energetic coming off a down performance against Brooklyn. Josh Richardson in particular continued to look as good as he ever has in his young career, but we also saw James Johnson trying to dunk on just about everyone and Dion Waiters again working his way into the paint and to the free-throw line – not to mention Hassan Whiteside continuing to shoot well from outside the paint.

Big picture, it was an interesting night as far as rotations go. Goran Dragić had the night off (he’s pretty much ready to go coming off Eurobasket) but instead of just inserting someone in his stead Erik Spoelstra pulled the double switch going with Richardson at guard and Kelly Olynyk in for James Johnson as the starting four. The trickle down after that was that Johnson effectively became the backup center and we see two shifts with Johnson and Justise Winslow as the frontcourt – and then both of them slid up a spot with Olynyk inserted back at center for a few minutes. As we’ve said all along, Spoelstra is not one to leave stones unturned and preseason is the best season for lineup experiments.

Joe Beguiristain: Despite the loss, there were a lot of positives to glean from Saturday night. For starters, the HEAT continued to show just how deep and dangerous they are thanks to having a multitude of ball handlers. From James Johnson and Justise Winslow (who got some run together in the first half against Orlando) to Dion Waiters and Josh Richardson, so many different guys can beat you off the dribble.

Speaking of Richardson, the 24-year-old had a fantastic 13-point spurt in the second quarter before he came through with a massive jam over Bismack Biyombo in the fourth. If anyone’s ready for the season, it’s him.

As Coup stated above, both Richardson and Kelly Olynyk got the start against Orlando. While Olynyk hasn’t converted as much as he’s used to from the perimeter, he got some good looks once again within the flow of the offense. And even with his 1-of-7 shooting performance, he found other ways to impact the game. In fact, he amassed four assists, four steals and a plus-five rating. He also contested a team-high 10 shots. Once his own shot starts to fall again, watch out.

2: What do you expect Spoelstra to try next?

Couper: With the team playing every other day for the rest of preseason it’s going to depend on who is available (regarding anyone who gets some rest), but we could see at least two more different starting lineups over the next three games. So that might mean another look at Olynyk at the four next to Whiteside but with Dragić in the lineup, or with Richardson in at the three. 

What’s important to note in all this talk off lineup tinkering is that no matter who starts the HEAT are just about always going to have above-average rotation talent on the floor across the board. In other words, the HEAT will have a strong bench unit either which way – and a strong bench unit was as important as anything else to last season’s turnaround.

Joe: I expect Erik Spoelstra to continue to tinker with different lineups. Going back to what I said before about Miami’s depth, Coach Spo can go with a number of different combinations and find a decent amount that work. Winslow and Johnson at the three and four looked pretty intriguing on Saturday, but imagine what a Richardson-Winslow pairing would look like with Goran Dragić back at the point guard spot. If you added Rodney McGruder and Hassan Whiteside to that group, you’d have three bonafide perimeter defenders, a rim protector and a fire-breathing dragon in transition.

In 209 minutes last season, the four-man lineup of Dragić, McGruder, Richardson and Whiteside produced a 10.6 net rating. Maybe it’s something Spoelstra will look at again. We’ll just have to wait and see.

3: How can playing Charlotte help prepare this team for the regular season?

Couper: When you’re trying to get your defense ready for the regular season, you want to be tested by players of Kemba Walker’s caliber. And when you’re throwing out a bunch of different lineups to see what works, you want to build evidence against players like Walker who can do just about anything with the ball in his hands. In other words, assuming Walker plays, preseason minutes against players like him lend an air of greater legitimacy to preseason numbers.

Joe: This matchup can help prepare the HEAT because Steve Clifford is going to have his guys ready to rock regardless of who plays. That said, it’s important to note that Nicolas Batum suffered a torn ligament in his left elbow and will miss some time. It seems as though Clifford will replace Batum with Jeremy Lamb for the time being. The 25-year-old Lamb played quite well in the Hornets’ last preseason game on Wednesday against the Pistons, as he scored 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting, dished out four assists, grabbed three boards and tallied a plus-11 rating. In short, Miami will certainly have to be wary of a guy who’s ready to make his mark.

Otherwise, Charlotte added a few new guys in the offseason, including Dwight Howard, Michael Carter-Williams (who is out, but working his way back) and rookies Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon.  

It should be a fun matchup on Monday night. 

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Highlights:

April 5 – HEAT at Hornets 

March 8 – Hornets at HEAT

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT are 1-2 in the preseason, while the Hornets stand at 1-1.
  • Miami has won its past two games against Charlotte.
  • Goran Dragić (rest) and A.J. Hammons (illness) are out for the HEAT.
  • Nicolas Batum (UCL tear) and Michael Carter-Williams (knee soreness) are out for the Hornets.

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 86.3 (29)
  • HEAT Defense: 91.7 (8)
  • Hornets Offense: 91.8 (26)
  • Hornets Defense: 101.0 (18)

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