Charlotte Hornets at Miami HEAT Game Preview

Josh Richardson
Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon

The Miami HEAT host the Charlotte Hornets Sunday afternoon at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! Tip-off is set for 1:00 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: Should Miami and Milwaukee meet in the playoffs, what part of Friday’s matchup would inform that meeting the most?

Couper Moorhead: The battle at the three-point line will always be important when these teams meet. The Bucks take a ton from deep but they allow a ton of opportunities as well. The HEAT’s offense is never better than when they are getting their threes to fall, and against the long, paint-packing Bucks you pretty much have to hit your jumpers. Those are just the facts of this matchup, though, and we didn’t particularly learn more about that Friday night.

For years we’ve been discussing how well the HEAT scheme for Giannis Antetokounmpo, walling off the paint with two or three defenders in order to stall the Milwaukee offense and keep them on the perimeter. That scheme has become a bit more difficult with how much shooting the Bucks have added and how they’ve prioritized finding threes, but even when the HEAT were giving up points they were still generally holding Antetokounmpo below his usual efficiency, at least in the half-court. So what was most interesting about this last game is the comfort Antetokounmpo seemed to develop as things wore on, even when the Bucks were in a big hole. Milwaukee’s star was locked in throughout and his approach and plan were that of a player who has studied how he’s being defended and knows where his driving lanes will be if he attacks the right seams quickly enough – particularly after forcing switches. It was somewhat reminiscent of how LeBron James grew into a comfort zone against San Antonio’s specialized scheme during the playoffs, and like James, Antetokounmpo will still need to find some success with jumpers (he was clearly looking for open threes), he may be figuring some things out.

Joe Beguiristain: It’s easy to focus on Giannis Antetokounmpo and say he’s the guy you have to stop, but the Bucks are more than just a one-man team. As Coup alluded to above, Milwaukee has an abundance of shooters around the “Greek Freak” that can make you pay the price if you send help. And while the HEAT held the Bucks in check through two quarters, Milwaukee started to make the extra pass against Miami’s zone and shot an unreal 11-of-19 from deep after the break. That, combined with a better defensive disposition, was the reason why the Bucks erased a double-digit deficit.

Before that point, though, Justise Winslow had a remarkable first half. From the opening tip, he lived up to his “Swiss Army Knife” moniker and did a little bit of everything to impact the game. Unfortunately, he missed most of the third quarter with a bruised right thigh and had trouble regaining his momentum.

Because of that injury, he’s listed as questionable for Sunday afternoon. We’ll see if he can give it a go.

Josh Richardson, Kemba Walker2: How were the HEAT so thoroughly able to shut down the Charlotte offense in the second half of the last game?

Couper: It definitely wasn’t the prettiest game of the season as both teams spent large portions of the game in zone, but that zone accomplished exactly what is was intended to in that with Miami bending the top of the defense toward Kemba Walker it took the ball out of the hands of Charlotte’s primary playmaker and forced his teammates to make plays. And so the Hornets as a team wound up with 19 turnovers and 36.6 percent shooting, with Walker going 5-of-17 as he had to force the issue just to get his usual looks. Charlotte hung around thanks to a late burst of shooting from Frank Kaminsky, but Miami was in control as Hassan Whiteside had one of the best off-the-bench games a center has had in years. The HEAT will likely use a similar scheme until the Hornets find a way to beat it, and they’ll be down an important player if Cody Zeller (listed as doubtful) can’t play.

Joe: Zone, zone and more zone.

Seriously, though, Miami’s zone defense made life miserable for Charlotte’s perimeter players, specifically Jeremy Lamb. With the HEAT scrambling and staying active in the passing lanes, Lamb struggled big time with a game-high five turnovers. Then again, Nicolas Batum and Kemba Walker also had four apiece. All told, Miami ended up with 18 points off turnovers and used a big run in the fourth quarter powered by Kelly Olynyk and Hassan Whiteside to seal the deal.

Long story short, it was one of the HEAT’s more dominant defensive performances of the season.

3: How might you expect the Hornets to change their approach Sunday?

Couper: Typically, the more a team faces a zone the more they get comfortable, and thus find success, against it. Walker knows what is coming this time and he’ll likely be more prepared to find the most effective passing lanes when he draws the second defender up top. Charlotte will do what most teams try to do and incorporate more off-ball movement, with screens set in the heart of the zone to spring shooters free, but at the end of the day it will be incumbent on their non-Walker players to make plays in those moments when ball movement catches the zone in rotation. Which means they’ll need more from Nic Batum, Jeremy Lamb and Tony Parker, all of whom combined to shoot 6-of-26 last time out. Walker may very well get hot and have a big game, but Charlotte’s most consistent success against Miami over the years has come with solid performances from all the role players.

Joe: Assuming Miami plays zone again, I don’t think the Hornets will change their approach per se. In that last meeting, Charlotte tried to get the ball to the middle of the floor and took more threes than it usually does. It’s just that Miami was ready for those passes and closed out well when those feeds did get through.

But as Coup mentioned above, I think that Walker will be a little more methodical in his approach this time around. When the trap came his way last time, he tended to make rash decisions. Now with a full game of film and time to prep, he should be geared up for the task at hand.

As such, the HEAT will have to take things to another level defensively, especially considering the playoff implications of this game.

INJURY UPDATE: Winslow is out, but Wade is available. 

Hornets at HEAT Head To Head

Game Notes:

  • After losing the two previous games to Charlotte, the HEAT defeated the Hornets 91-84 in their most recent meeting on March 6.
  • Miami has dropped two of three and is 32-36, while Charlotte has dropped four of six and enters the contest at 31-37.
  • Dion Waiters has hit at least one 3-pointer in a career-high 19 consecutive games.
  • Kemba Walker leads the Hornets in points (25.2), assists (5.8) and steals (1.3) per game.
  • Dwyane Wade (Right Hip Bruise) and Justise Winslow (Right Thigh Bruise) are questionable, while Charles Cooke and Yante Maten (Sioux Falls Assignment) remain out.

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 107.1 (24)
  • HEAT Defense: 107.4 (8)
  • Hornets Offense: 110.2 (14)
  • Hornets Defense: 111.3 (22)

For live in-game updates of Sunday afternoon’s contest, follow @MiamiHEAT, @CoupNBA and @JoeBeguiristain on Twitter.

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