Miami HEAT at Charlotte Hornets Game Preview

Photo Credit: Kent Smith

The Miami HEAT face the Charlotte Hornets Saturday night at Spectrum Center. The HEAT defeated the Hornets 104-98 in their last meeting on Dec. 15. 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 struck you the most about Miami’s loss in Brooklyn?

Couper Moorhead: That once the HEAT went up 16 points in the third quarter, largely on the strength of a strong individual performance from Hassan Whiteside as the team supported him along the way with strong entry passes, it was the Nets going small that changed the game. In the first half, Brooklyn played a three-center rotation and Miami was able to create some separation against those secondary units, but once Quincy Acy became the nominal center in the second half the entire complexion of the game changed. Suddenly the Nets were operating with a ton of spacing – Acy is a more than capable shooter – and it was that stretch and strain on the defense that led to the Nets late rim attacks that sealed the game.

Typically it’s been Erik Spoelstra going small to change a game in the second half, but as he noted after the game this is what teams will do when you have a big player going strong. 

Joe Beguiristain: The main thing that stuck out to me was how Brooklyn responded in the second half. With Hassan Whiteside dominating much like he did against Milwaukee on Wednesday, the Nets countered with smaller lineups and found success more often than not. Miami hung in tough, as Goran Dragić and James Johnson had two clutch drives down the stretch, but Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert hit some big buckets to keep momentum on Brooklyn’s side.

Although it was a disappointing loss, the HEAT still had a chance to win it in the end. If the team defended more to its identity, perhaps things would have been different. Luckily enough, Miami gets a chance to right its wrongs in less than 24 hours against the Hornets on Saturday night.

2: What have we learned from the previous matchups with Charlotte?

Couper: The most important lesson with Charlotte is that of the importance of Kemba Walker. When he’s on the court, the Hornets outscore opponents by 5.2 points per 100 possessions. When he’s off the court, the Hornets get outscored by 12.1 points per 100 possessions. As far as high-usage players go, that’s one of the largest discrepancies in the entire league.

Walker is a premier player, obviously, but that gap is as much about Charlotte’s bench as it is about him. In the two wins over Charlotte this year, the HEAT have regularly won the minutes where the Hornets have mostly bench players on the floor, with Kelly Olynyk a plus-18 in the first matchup and Wayne Ellington a +13 in the second. With the HEAT dealing with a number of injuries their own secondary lineups won’t be the same as in those games, but those are clearly minutes that will go a long ways against Charlotte regardless of who is playing them.

Joe: We’ve learned (or continued to see) just how tough and well-coached the Hornets are. Although Miami had a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter of that last matchup with Charlotte on Dec. 15, the Hornets stormed back and narrowed the deficit to two with 1:31 left before Dragić and Dion Waiters sealed it. That kind of grit and resolve is something we’ve seen from Steve Clifford’s team for years now.

That said, a lot of Charlotte’s success hinges on Kemba Walker and his effectiveness. When he’s doing damage in the pick-and-roll (he’s averaging 1.00 points per possession in the PnR this season) and forcing the defense to react, the Hornets are tough to beat.

That’s been the case of late, as Charlotte has won five of its last seven with Walker and Dwight Howard leading the way. Although Bam Adebayo has fared very well against Howard this season, Whiteside should make things even more interesting. Remember, Whiteside missed the two previous meetings with the Hornets due to a left knee bone bruise.

3: How will the HEAT have to approach attacking Charlotte’s defense?

Couper: Steve Clifford – let us note here how nice it is to have him back after a medical leave of absence – has often opted to shrink the floor against Miami ever since these teams met in the first round of the playoffs two seasons ago. For reference, it’s a style very much like what Miami did to Milwaukee earlier this week. It’s been a little less severe now that they have Dwight Howard protecting the paint, limiting the need to bring in more defenders, but the HEAT have nevertheless used that perimeter space to hit 25 threes over the two games so far.

Now that Miami doesn’t have shooters like Dion Waiters and (as of this writing) Tyler Johnson, their lineups have changed somewhat. Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo are playing spot minutes together and Spoelstra is using more lineups without traditional high-volume catch-and-shoot players. That means they could have less three-point volume to rely on and will instead have to, as they have often over the past few weeks, focus on their half-court execution when it comes to timing, screening and cutting.

Joe: With Dwight Howard patrolling the middle and Charlotte not giving up a whole lot at the rim as a whole, Miami just needs to stay true to its drive-and-kick game. While the Hornets boast a top-10 defense and allow the second-fewest shot attempts per game from the restricted area, they do relinquish a ton of looks from beyond the arc. That rang true in the HEAT’s previous matchups with Charlotte, as Miami launched 66 triples combined over the two games.

As such, Josh Richardson and Wayne Ellington could have big nights on Saturday if the HEAT’s ball movement is up to par. Don’t forget that the Hornets have strong perimeter defenders in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Nicolas Batum to go along with Howard inside.

We’ll see how everything plays out, as Miami looks to bounce back from its loss in Brooklyn.  

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Highlights:

Dec. 15 – HEAT at Hornets

Dec. 1 – Hornets at HEAT

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won eight of ten and are 26-19 on the year.
  • The Hornets have won five of seven and enter the contest at 18-25.
  • Hassan Whiteside is averaging 17.8 points, 12.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game on 65.4 percent shooting over his past five outings.
  • Kemba Walker leads Charlotte in points (21.7), assists (5.8) and steals (1.2) per game.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 103.7 (23)
  • HEAT Defense: 104.7 (11)
  • Hornets Offense: 104.2 (18)
  • Hornets Defense: 104.6 (8)