The Charlotte Hornets have won seven of their last nine games, with their only losses coming to two of the NBA's most elite teams: the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy remarked before Sunday's game that the Hornets are a "true contender in the East."
After their victory over the Pistons and the Indiana Pacers' loss to the Warriors last night, the Hornets are now tied with the Pacers for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Who'd have thought, eh?
Tonight, the Hornets continue their homestand with a game against the Miami Heat. The Hornets have already played the Heat twice in the last two months –– once in preseason, once in their season opener –– so both teams are familiar with one another, making tonight's game something of a rubber match.
The Heat have won six of their last 10 games, and are coming off a controversial loss to the Washington Wizards on Monday. In fact, it was so controversial that the NBA admitted its referees made a mistake in the closing moments of the game. Needless to say, the Heat are not pleased and will likely look to send a message to the NBA through the Hornets. Let's hope that doesn't happen.
Three things to watch for
All hail King Zeller
Cody Zeller is averaging 14.3 points on 52 percent shooting and 5.7 rebounds in 25.8 minutes per game in the Hornets last three contests, which is well above his season averages. He had a fantastic game against the Pistons a couple of nights ago, finishing with 20 points, six rebounds, and two blocks. He's on something of a hot streak, and that should continue tonight against the Heat. Chris Bosh is very good, but Zeller is on a mission.
Batum and the Heat's young, athletic wings
The Heat have a dynamic duo of Gerald Green and Justise Winslow when Dwyane Wade gets a breather. Neither has performed well on offense over the Heat's last five games –– they're shooting 43.1 percent and 30.4 percent from the field, respectively –– but it's on defense that those two can really make their mark. It's unlikely Wade spends much time on Nicolas Batum tonight, so it'll be interesting to see how Batum handles the athleticism of Green and the tenacity of Winslow.
So, um, score?
The Heat have the second-best defense in the NBA this season, trailing only the San Antonio Spurs, and a quick look at their defensive statistics put in perspective just how good they are on that end of the floor. Teams not only shoot 42.1 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from behind the arc against them, but the Heat rarely foul on shot attempts. In fact, the Heat only foul opponents 18.6 times per game, which is tied for fifth fewest in the league. The Hornets are a very good offensive team this season, but they haven't played a defense quite like Miami's this year. Well, Spurs aside.