The Charlotte Hornets are back at it tonight, with an opportunity to even the series against the Miami Heat at 2-2. Getting a win tonight would essentially reset the series for the Hornets, making it a best of three. Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer described Game 4 as "the most significant game that Charlotte has ever played" since the NBA returned to the Queen City in 2004.
And given the result of Sunday's home game, a win tonight might seem likely.
Especially considering there's a chance — a chance, nothing more — that Nicolas Batum might play in Game 4. While his foot was taped heavily at practice yesterday, he mentioned that the swelling had gone down and that he'd like to play tonight.
The Hornets somehow mitigated the loss of Batum in Game 3 by going big up front rather than in the backcourt. Hornets head coach Steve Clifford is a frickin' wizard, because on paper that seemed like a terrible idea. Most of us expected expanded roles for Jeremy Lamb and Troy Daniels. Nope. Clifford went with Frank Kaminsky and Spencer Hawes instead.
Lucky for him, Kaminsky had something of a breakout game in Game 3, scoring 15 points and snagging six boards. Consistency hasn't been a strong suit for Kaminsky this season, but he'll be needed to provide a similar performance tonight should Batum not be able to play. Assuming Cliff keeps things big, of course.
Jeremy Lin filled in admirably for Batum in Game 3, and he too will need to have a similar impact tonight for the Hornets to win. While he still struggles mightily to guard Dwyane Wade (most players do, in fairness), he showed a controlled aggression we've seldom seen from him this year and was able to balance playing off-ball with dominating the ball very well.
More than anything, though, the Hornets need to come out with the same intensity and fire that drove them to a win in Game 3. Playing in front of a home crowd likely had a lot to do with it, and they have that luxury once again tonight. But after tonight, the series goes back to Miami. The Hornets need to figure out how to stay focused without a mob of 20,000 people cheering them on.
Because while the Heat's shooting regressed to the mean like we expected it to, we can't expect them to keep shooting poorly, either. Funny how these things work.
Hassan Whiteside is dealing with a bruised right thigh, which kept him out of practice yesterday. He is expected to play tonight for the Heat. Even if he does, that thigh injury could limit his effectiveness on defense and the boards. Might not, too. It doesn't sound serious.
Referees for Game 4 are Danny Crawford, Derrick Collins, and Ron Garretson. Good batch of refs, if you ask me.
If the Hornets secure a win tonight, they have a legitimate chance of making it out of the first round. If they lose, however, Game 5 might feel more like a formality than an opportunity to even the series once again. Kemba Walker said yesterday that the team isn't thinking about losing at all, not even as a possibility, and that's the correct mindset. Let's hope the boys in teal stay focused.