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Where: American Airlines Arena; Miami, Florida
When: 8:00 p.m. EST
How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
On Friday night, the Charlotte Hornets head to Miami to take on the Heat in a battle of southeastern division rivals. Once again, Kemba Walker is questionable to play with a bruised shoulder. Michael Carter-Williams will start in his place with Malik Monk getting the backup minutes if Walker can’t go. Charlotte's first game without Kemba did not go well in a 126-133 loss at Toronto.
Luckily, the Hornets catch a break themselves as Hassan Whiteside will be out for the Heat. However, this will still be a tough game. Miami is well coached and plays as hard as any team in the league. Like Charlotte, they haven't had the best start to the season, so they understand the importance of this game.
Charlotte needs to take this opportunity to sort out their defense. After a good start, Charlotte has slipped to 15th in total defense and they were awful in Toronto on Wednesday. Hopefully, they can rebound against Miami's 26th ranked offense. The key will be stopping Miami's guards Dion Waiters and Goran Dragic. Both can get hot and be explosive.
Dragic averages 18 points per game and Waiters averages 15.4 points per game. This is especially concerning since Charlotte gave up 36 points to Kyle Lowry last night and 30 points to DeMar DeRozan.
Surrounding the star guards for Miami is two defensive wings in Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow. Both are more defensive players than offensive players, though Richardson can get hot from deep. Replacing Whiteside at the center will be rookie Bam Adebayo . After a slow start, he is starting to play well.
The Heat may not score well, but they are much better on the defensive end ranking 13th. Charlotte did pretty well scoring without Walker against Toronto, and they will have to keep that coming. Carter-Williams will have to pick it up on that end as he only went 1-for-10 against the Raptors.
The bench will be critical tonight. Miami has several bench players that can do damage. One battle to watch in particular is Frank Kaminsky vs. Kelly Olynyk. Kaminsky played well against Toronto but has to be more consistent, if he can get the better of Olynyk that will go along way.
The Heat also has capable shooters off the bench in Wayne Ellington and Tyler Johnson. Charlotte cant let these guys get hot, and it will be up to Jeremy Lamb and Monk to stop them. Both will also have to score a lot to carry the load without Kemba.
A bright spot of the Miami lost was Dwight Howard had a great game with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Charlotte should look to get him going early especially without Whiteside. The Hornets other starters also need to produce more offensively. Marvin Williams only had five points, Nicolas Batum had ten, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had twelve. All of these guys need to step up without Walker to win this game.
The key is defense. Miami has a weak offense, and Charlotte needs to set the tone early. The Hornet defensive intensity didn't come until the third quarter against the Raptors. They need to jump in the Heat quickly and set the tone for the game. If they win a slow, low scoring game that's fine.
This would be a big win without Kemba and on the road and could give Charlotte some much-needed momentum. Losers of three straight and four games under .500 the Hornets need this one. Defense and bench play will be the key.