Who: Charlotte Hornets at Miami Heat
Where: AmericanAirlines Center. Miami, FL.
When: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV/Radio: Fox Sports Southeast-Charlotte/ WFNX 610 AM
The Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets are both locked into the third and sixth seeds respectively for the Eastern Conference Playoff race. What remains to be seen is how each coach approaches the final weeks of this season.
This Miami Heat team has some lineup versatility going forward. Recently Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra has decided to go small with Luol Deng shifting to power forward and Amar'e Stoudamire starting at center. When these two are accompanied by Joe Johnson on the wing and Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic at the guard position the five man unit posts a net rating of 17.4. Clearly Dragic and Wade are more comfortable playing with each other, and the offense has become less reliant on the ball-dominant tendencies of Dwayne Wade. Johnson brings three point shooting to the wing to a team that sits 27th in the league at three point shooting percentage. Where this team gets interesting is how Spoelstra is managing his lineups.
Coach Spoelstra has the luxury of bringing Hassan Whiteside and his 3.8 blocks per game off the bench to play defense against team's starters and bench players alike. 11 time All-Star Chris Bosh is also back for the Heat, and he's still a dangerous inside out player who can play center in some lineups. Let's not forget about the Heat's impressive rookies in Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson. Since the All-Star break the two rookies have begun to prove they can play big minutes when needed. Richardson in particular is shooting a blistering 65.4% from three in March. With all these quality players on the bench Miami can choose to go big, small, or something in between. That's something the Hornets need to be prepared for.
The Hornets continue their blistering play this season sporting a top ten offense and defense once again. Kemba Walker continues to light the world on fire, and Marvin Williams is having a contract year for the ages. This the best basketball we've ever seen from a Charlotte team since the team's return in 2004. What is a bit worrisome is the Hornets' offense relies on spacing, movement, and good shooting. In the recent loss to the Dallas Mavericks when the shots weren't falling the team fell behind and could never recover. Miami's smaller lineup are quick footed and can close out on shooters with skill. Whiteside can also be brought in to patrol the paint and prevent drives. Will the Heat's defense and versatility be too much for Charlotte? Lets hope not.