What: Charlotte Hornets vs. Miami Heat
Where: American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL
When: 7:30 p.m. EST
How to watch: Fox Sports South, Fox Sports Miami
It was a quick pitstop at home on Monday before the Charlotte Hornets had to hit the road again for tonight’s tilt with the Miami Heat. Luckily though, this road trip is as equally long with the team heading back to Charlotte for a three-game home stand starting on Friday.
Monday night’s 100-88 victory over the Indiana Pacers was important for numerous reasons. For starters, the Hornets beat a fellow fringe-playoff team, closing the already tight gap between the sixth and 11th seeds. Secondly, the Hornets won consecutive games for the first time since January 20th and 21st.
Tonight, the Hornets have another opportunity to better their chances of making the playoffs, but it comes against arguably the hottest (pun definitely intended) team in the NBA. Currently just a game and a half outside the eight seed, the Heat have had an NBA-best 19-4 record since January 15. To add to it, they head into tonight’s game on the heels of beating the defending champs, the Cleveland Cavaliers, in back-to-back games.
Recently, it’s been a three-headed monster leading the Heat in Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters. Dragic is having one of his most productive seasons to date, averaging over 20 points per game to go along with six assists. Whiteside can say the same, who has practically been an automatic double-double this season with his 16.6-point and 14.4-rebound season averages. He currently ranks fifth in the NBA with 42 double-doubles. As for Waiters, his season has been filled with magical moments, including his banked 3-point make to put the game out of reach and cap off his 29-point performance against the Cavaliers on Monday.
The Heat have also relied on a deep bench throughout their hot stretch, which has been led by the two Johnsons — Tyler Johnson and James Johnson. However, both of them along with Luke Babbitt are listed as questionable for tonight.
On the Hornets injury frontier, Frank Kaminsky will miss his third game in a row with the shoulder injury he suffered against the Phoenix Suns last week. With Miles Plumlee also still sidelined, it means Johnny O’Bryant III will log additional minutes fresh off signing a second 10-day contract on Monday. Cody Zeller will start again and his presence has been duly noted since returning from an injury of his own. He’ll have his hands full with Whiteside.
While the recent 4-2 stretch has been uplifting, the Hornets have continued to struggle playing a complete 48 minutes. In Saturday’s win over the Denver Nuggets, the Hornets got out to a 20-point lead midway through the quarter and saw it slip to four points in the fourth quarter. Also, after dominating the Pacers in the first half on Monday, a really poor third quarter made it a much closer game than it should’ve been.
In both games, however, the Hornets were excellent defensively, which tends to be the deciding factor in many of their games. Also, the Hornets have clearly been better at home this season, and with many of their remaining games in Charlotte, there’s ample opportunity to get back into the top eight in the East.
Over the past five games, Kemba Walker is averaging an astounding 29 points as he continues his incredible season. However, there’s no question he needs more consistent help across the entire roster if the Hornets have post-season aspirations.
Having won the two first contests against the Heat this season, the Hornets can win the four-game season series with a victory tonight.