By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
March 29, 2013
Four days after ending the Denver Nuggets’ 15-game winning streak in impressive fashion, the New Orleans Hornets looked like they might have another chance at stopping a historic run by an opponent on Friday evening. However, the Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak came to an end Wednesday, when they were defeated by the Chicago Bulls.
As the Hornets were rolling to a 110-86 rout over the Nuggets on Monday, the Heat were simultaneously posting consecutive victory No. 27 in Orlando, a 108-94 win against their in-state rivals. New Orleans took a three-game winning streak of its own into Wednesday’s home game against the Los Angeles Clippers, but lost by a 105-91 margin. The Hornets have recently played some of their best basketball of the 2012-13 season, featuring victories over Boston, Memphis and Denver.
New Orleans will need similarly excellent play in order to register what would be a significant upset against defending NBA champion Miami. The clubs met previously on Dec. 8 on South Beach, with Miami recording a 106-90 triumph. The Hornets started quickly by building a 32-31 lead after the first quarter, but the Heat used a 33-15 second quarter to take control of the game. Playing without starters Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis due to injury, the Hornets were led by Ryan Anderson’s 24 points (4-for-6 three-point shooting). Robin Lopez added 20 points for NOLA. Miami was paced by its “Big Three” of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, who tallied 26, 24 and 13 points, respectively. Ray Allen and Shane Battier came off the bench to burn the Hornets with 11 points apiece.
Intriguing matchup: Small forward, Al-Farouq Aminu vs. LeBron James
After winning MVP honors and leading the Heat to the 2012 NBA title, James has somehow gotten even better in his 10th professional season. The league’s most feared player can hurt opposing teams in an array of ways, from scoring to passing to rebounding to defensive disruptiveness. Aminu and the Hornets will focus on trying to keep the Heat from getting fast-break opportunities, where their speed and athleticism make for a lethal combination.
NBA champions in 2006 and 2012, Miami nonetheless is on pace to post the best record in franchise history this season. The Heat’s all-time top mark in an 82-game season is 61-21, but the club is 56-15, meaning it only needs to go 6-5 the rest of the way to surpass that 61-win tally. Incredibly, Miami was 29-14 overall prior to winning at Toronto on Super Bowl Sunday, then went through the remainder of its entire February and March schedules without a defeat prior to Wednesday's loss at Chicago. When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh famously (or infamously, depending on your perspective) joined forces during the 2010 offseason, many feared the trio would dominate the league. That’s exactly what’s happened over the past two months.
It’s sometimes said that if you were to construct a prototype of a basketball player, it wouldn’t be far from James, who is 6-foot-8, 250 pounds (the build of a tight end), but still extremely athletic. He also is considered to be one of the game’s smartest players, with a “basketball IQ” that is off the charts. James has also always been praised for his passing ability and unselfishness. If there’s a weakness in his game, it’s his perimeter shooting, where he can be a bit streaky. But he’s improved there as well, at a career-high 39.2 percent in three-point accuracy this season.
On the rise
Perhaps the Heat’s most underrated player, point guard Mario Chalmers has often made key shots during his four-plus NBA seasons. Miami has qualified for the playoffs in each year of the Kansas product’s career, capped by a 2012 NBA crown. Chalmers is one of four Heat players connecting on more than 40 percent of their three-point attempts this season.
Former Hornets player Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who was signed midway through the current season, has provided the Heat with a much-needed interior presence. The energetic Andersen has rejuvenated his 11-year NBA career and can be counted on for shot-blocking and rebounding.
On the sideline
Under the microscope since Day 1 as Heat head coach, Erik Spoelstra is now recognized as one of the game’s brightest sideline leaders. Spoelstra took over for Pat Riley in 2008-09 and has guided Miami to five consecutive winning seasons.
Did you know?
The Heat and Hornets joined the NBA as expansion franchises at the same time, beginning play in 1988-89.
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