Game time: 7 p.m.
Where: Time Warner Cable Arena - Charlotte, NC
TV: Fox SportSouth and NBA League Pass
It's been a tough start for the Hornets, and playing the reigning Eastern Conference champions, even when both teams are playing the tail end of a back-to-back, won't make it any easier. Yes, LeBron James is no longer on the Miami Heat, but they're still the reigning conference champs, and it's not like they've looked noticeably worse to start the season.
The Heat currently rank in the top ten in the league in both offensive rating and defensive rating, which was not the case for them last season (don't draw any big conclusions, this is absolutely a small sample size, but it's fair to say that they've played really well so far). So far, they've gotten their wins through solid rebounding and very efficient offensive conversion rates, including showing a major penchant for drawing fouls.
They've been led by a resurgent Chris Bosh, who has so far thrived in the star-of-the-team role vacated by one L. James, and Dwyane Wade has looked pretty spry so far too. Luol Deng, their biggest offseason addition, hasn't been quite the perimeter threat they might have optimistically imagined him being, but he's been instrumental to their offensive success, getting to the rim easily and often. Meanwhile, their new-look bench unit still has their share of three-point shooters, with Mario Chalmers, now in a lesser role, NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player and first-round pick Shabazz Napier, and James Ennis, who was a terrific college scorer in Long Beach State's fast-paced offense led by Casper Ware. And that doesn't even mention Bobcats Legend Josh McRoberts, who has struggled so far while nursing an injury, but, as we saw last year, his perimeter shooting ability has to be respected by the defense.
So is this a good matchup for the Hornets? Well.....no. The Hornets have succeeded so far at the same things that led to their thriving defense last season, which is controlling the defensive glass and not committing needless fouls. And even with Erik Spoelstra's emphasis on driving to the basket to draw contact, I'm not worried about the Hornets losing the game through a series of an extra point or two every few minutes. What I am worried about is that the Hornets' only moderate ability at stopping shots from falling might be further exposed by a team that can get a lot of production out of the longball-- and won't be able to score at a consistent enough rate to keep up with the opposition.
Is it a bad matchup? I'd say yes, with the added caveat that the Heat aren't a good matchup for anybody right now. But Miami isn't a team without its weaknesses, and the Hornets' improved takeaway ability might be able to take advantage of the fact that the primary ballhandling duties on the Heat have passed from LeBron to Norris Cole. Furthermore, their perimeter defense outside of Luol Deng has been suspect for most of the season thus far (especially at the point guard position), so look for Kemba Walker to try to exploit any mismatches he gets. Given the way he's shot the ball so far this year, that might or might not be a good thing, but I'm confident he'll at least get better looks tonight. Better yet, he might see open lanes to the basket far more often than he's used to. Either way, keep an eye out on him tonight.
Some other things potentially worth paying attention to:
- Bismack Biyombo still hasn't played this season, and I would probably assume that will end tonight. Somebody's gotta stop Chris Bosh, and that somebody probably is not Al Jefferson.
- Also not playing yet this season: Jannero Pargo. And with the way this team is shooting, if they end up having to play from behind, it's possible they might need him.
- At the time of writing this, I don't know whether Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be healthy enough to play. I certainly hope he is, for more reasons than one.
- I'm really disappointed that we're going to have to wait a little longer to see LeBron and Lance Stephenson hang out for the first time since Stephenson tried pestering him the same way an overeager seven year old would to his new puppy.
- College Reunion Alert: Kemba and Shabazz Napier will hug it out before the game, and as At the Hive's resident UConn fan, I will be bawling.
- Losing Streak: Three games and counting. Let's hope it ends tonight.