The Miami Heat are an incredibly good basketball team. Do not let their collapse against the Boston Celtics on the final night of the season cloud judgement. There's a reason they were in position to get the three seed, and there's a reason that so many consider them the dark horse of the conference.
The Heat play a style that is very much the opposite of the Charlotte Hornets, but reminiscent of previous Hornets teams. They like to slow down the pace of the game, which is fitting for some of the age that's on the roster, and rely on their defense to get them victories. However, in the latter half of the season Miami has changed up the way they play a bit. When the personnel on the floor fits Miami will pick up the pace, spread out the floor, and let Goran Dragic go to work in the open floor. Dragic might not tear apart defenses in Miami the way he did in Phoenix, but he can still play like one of the top point guards in the NBA.
However, one player that drastically changes the way Miami plays is Dwyane Wade. Still a very talented scorer Wade likes to take defenders off the dribble. He wants the ball in his hands, and more importantly he likes it slow. It's not that Wade can't play in a fast system, because he can, but it's just not the way that he likes to play at this stage of his career. This has made working Wade in with some of the other talent on Miami's roster not an easy job for Erik Spoelstra. However, Spo is a great coach and he's managed to make it all work enough to get Miami up to the three seed. It also helps that, despite his flaws, Wade is still one of the best two guards in the NBA. He's smart on defense. Knows how to score without athleticism, and his years of playoff experience can only help.
Unlike previous Miami playoff runs, the Heat's ability to be a contender does not rely solely on him. In fact, how good the Heat can be really sinks and swims with Hassan Whiteside. Despite early season numbers saying that Miami is better defensively when Whiteside isn't on the floor there is no denying that he blocks shots. Does he chase for a lot of those blocks? Yes, but his impact on the game is always felt. When Whiteside is making himself known, and playing to his maximum potential, the Heat are a type of dangerous that has experts giving them a chance against conference contenders like Cleveland. However, when he's disappearing, chasing too many blocks, and not playing very well it can get bad for Miami in a hurry. We saw that in the regular season finale against Boston.
Finally, what holds the Heat up together are their role players. The addition of Joe Johnson off the waiver wire ended up being an incredible move for Miami. He's a 3-point shooting threat that they lacked, and he's not afraid to take shots in big moments. He can play up a position at four for short spurts, but that's dangerous defensively. Miami usually keeps him as a small forward so they can cash in on his plus 40 percent shooting from deep since joining the Heat.
Also coming off Miami's bench is a handful of combo guards and defensive stoppers. Guys like Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson have been huge for the Heat this season in random outbursts, and Spoelstra likes to rely on them down the stretch when they have it going. The Heat also bring rookie Justise Winslow off the bench as a pure defensive stopper. Offensively he struggles, but early in the season he was already defending opposing team's best wing scorers.
The Heat aren't perfect by any means, but they have a lot of potential to be much better than they appear. Guys like Whiteside, Wade, and Dragic that at any moment can take over a portion of a game and completely swing it in their favor. Add in a great coach like Spoelstra, and this is an incredibly dangerous opponent. However, they're also a great matchup for the Hornets.
Of all the potential options that Charlotte could have had on the final night of the season a 3-6 matchup with Miami may have been the best scenario. Not only did it keep them out of Cleveland's bracket, but they also don't have to play a scorching hot Atlanta team. As for how they match up with the Heat themselves, both teams consider themselves to have a defensive identity, but the offenses are massively different.
Miami is not a great shooting team by any means. As a team they shoot 33 percent from the field, which is good enough for 27th in the NBA. They rely on grinding games out, and they're very two point heavy. It's here where the Hornets get their biggest advantage. Since Charlotte is such a 3-point happy team they can try to beat out Miami through the power of math. Three points is more than two. It's why the Hornets struggled so much last season, and that's why the changed to their current offensive system.
A key matchup in the series will be Charlotte's bigs against Whiteside. He's a solid defender, but it'll be interesting to see how he responds to getting stretched out by Cody Zeller, and Whiteside has been known to struggle against stronger centers that can get into him. Al Jefferson could prove to be a big problem for the Heat considering his size, and Whiteside's struggles against physical centers. Shutting down Whiteside may be the factor that swings the series in Charlotte's favor.
These are both two incredibly talented teams, and each with exploitable weaknesses. The Heat obviously have the edge thanks to home court, and their rock steady defense, but the Hornets offense is going to very much be a problem for Miami. Expect this series to go long.