The Miami HEAT face the Charlotte Hornets Wednesday night at Spectrum Center. The HEAT defeated the Hornets 108-101 in their last meeting on March 8. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 6:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What did you take away from Miami’s loss to Denver on Sunday?
Couper Moorhead: While Miami certainly could have played better on both ends, especially offensively, this game also made readily apparent how difficult of a matchup Denver is for the HEAT. Even with some injuries the Nuggets don’t have many weak spots in their lineup, meaning Miami’s usual advantage off the bench is diminished slightly, but Denver also had a ton of size and the skill to take advantage of it. Through no fault of their own, Rodney McGruder, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson all found themselves at a height disadvantage against the likes of Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. And with Hassan Whiteside being pulled out of the paint by the immensely-skilled Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets were able to mismatch-hunt around the rim.
Those matchup issues aren’t going to be the same against other teams and other personnel, but Miami hasn’t been as consistent on the defensive end of late as we’re used to seeing. With the season on the line, that’s where they can get things back on track.
Joe Beguiristain: My main takeaway was the resurgence of Josh Richardson. After a nice outing against the Knicks on March 29, the 23-year-old simply went off in the fourth quarter against the Nuggets. How so? Well, he scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting in the period (including 3-of-4 from deep) and assisted Tyler Johnson on a huge three that narrowed the deficit to one with 10.8 seconds left. The barrage from deep wasn’t exclusive to Richardson, however, as the HEAT shot 13-of-26 (50 percent) from beyond the arc.
It’s no secret that Miami is very tough to beat when it finds the range from downtown (22-8 when shooting 40 percent or better from three), and while it didn’t result in a victory this time around, it was still good to see the team catch fire. If the HEAT can build off that and also get back to their defensive principles, they should have some success on their three-game road trip.
2: What is behind Charlotte’s recent surge back into the playoff race?
Couper: Since seemingly dropping out of the playoff race in mid-March the Hornets have surged back into the mix winning seven of ten including impressive road wins in Toronto and Oklahoma City this past week. This really shouldn’t be much of a surprise, however. The Hornets are good, especially when they have Cody Zeller with whom they’re a +6.9 whenever he is on the floor, and they had really only dropped behind the pack (as far as the lower playoffs seeds) when Zeller missed a good chunk of the season. Now Charlotte is as healthy as they’ve been all season, with Zeller starting and backups Frank Kaminsky and Miles Plumlee ready to go after both were sidelined during Charlotte’s last visit to Miami.
As for how this game is going to go, the Hornets are always one of Miami’s most difficult opponents because they use a tough, paint-packing scheme and play it both smart and tough. Charlotte had the lead going into the final period when the teams played at the height of Miami’s run of success and it was only the HEAT’s ability to take advantage from the perimeter, shooting 17-of-41 from three, that pushed them ahead in the end.
Joe: Although the Hornets have slipped up on the defensive end as of late, they’ve been one of the best offensive teams in the league over the past two and half weeks. In fact, Charlotte has tallied the fourth-best offensive rating (114.6) over its last ten games and has gone 7-3 during that stretch. Of course, Kemba Walker has been a handful, averaging 25.5 points and 5.3 assists per game on 41.4 percent shooting from three throughout the flurry. Also of note is the fact that defensive specialist Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been more efficient offensively.
While the Hornets’ recent run has been impressive, they’ve been one of the better passing teams all year and have also ranked among the top ten in 3-pointers attempted for most of the season. In short, Coach Steve Clifford always has his team prepared on both ends, and that has manifested itself in Charlotte’s recent playoff push.
3: What are the playoff implications of Wednesday night’s game?
Couper: As of now, Miami is currently No. 9 and a half game back of Chicago and Indiana, which are tied for the final two playoff spots. The Hornets, meanwhile, are a game and a half behind the HEAT at No. 10.
Unlike last week against Detroit the direct tiebreaker with Charlotte isn’t up in the air Wednesday night as the Hornets will finish with the better division record even if the series is 2-2, but 2-2 is very different from 1-3 when it comes to multi-team tiebreakers (as we saw at the end of last season). Of course tiebreakers only matter if teams actually tie and the most immediate concern is Charlotte being close enough to actually pull ahead of Miami in the standings. Other teams losing is always helpful, but you don’t want to rely on others to take care of things for you. Depending on how things go Wednesday night, Miami could earn a little cushion going into their tough finishing stretch of the season, or they could be on the outside looking in with a Toronto-Washington back-to-back looming.
Joe: This game is of the utmost importance for both teams since the HEAT and Hornets are currently on the outside looking in. At the current moment, Miami is No. 9 (a half game back) and Charlotte is No. 10 (two games back) because Indiana defeated Toronto on Tuesday night and jumped up to No. 8. Additionally, the Hornets lost some ground on the HEAT with their loss to the Wizards. That said, Charlotte still leads the season-series 2-1 and also owns the better division record. Remember, conference and division records become more crucial if there is a multi-team tie.
At the end of the day though, it’s all about what Miami can control, and that all starts with the team taking care of its own business. If you get caught up in what all the other teams are doing, you’ll drive yourself crazy. It’s better to just let things play out and enjoy what should feel like a playoff game on Wednesday night. Given everything that’s at stake, the atmosphere at Spectrum Center should be electric to say the least.
INJURY UPDATE: Luke Babbitt (strained right hip flexor) did not participate in Wednesday morning’s shootaround and is questionable to play against the Hornets.
March 8-Hornets at HEAT
December 29-HEAT at Hornets
- The HEAT enter the contest at 37-40.
- The Hornets have won seven of ten and are 36-42 on the year.
- Hassan Whiteside leads Miami in rebounds (14.0) and blocks (2.1) per game.
- Kemba Walker leads Charlotte in scoring at 23.2 points per contest.
- HEAT Offense: 104.9 (17)
- HEAT Defense: 104.1 (5)
- Hornets Offense: 106.8 (14)
- Hornets Defense: 105.7 (13)