Happy St. Patrick’s Day basketball fans!
The Miami Heat take the floor in South Beach tonight when they face the Charlotte Hornets! In what has turned into a 4-team race for the third spot in the Eastern Conference, the Heat and Hornets are currently number and six respectively, but are only separated by merely one game. So tonight is a HUGE game for both teams, and each will be looking to get a win. It would be big for Miami because it would not only give them the tiebreaker if it came to that, but it would also keep them ahead of Atlanta if the Hawks were to beat the Nuggets tonight (the Heat do own that tiebreaker too). Charlotte will look to gain some more momentum after finishing a seven-game homestand at 6-1.
These two teams always put on a good show, but now that they play a similar style, it should be even better to watch. They both are playing small, which should give neither a clear-cut advantage. With that said, the Heat do have an advantage with Whiteside coming off the bench. He needs to dominate the paint while also protecting the rime from drives by Kemba Walker. Let’s take a look at the three keys to the game:
- Run them off the line: Charlotte averages the third most points from downtown while also ranking ninth in three-point percentage. Miami needs to closeout and force them to drive, because the Charlotte ranks near the bottom of the league in percentage inside the three-point line. All of their guys, with the exception of Zeller and Jefferson, can shoot from the outside. Therefore, the Heat will need to use that small lineup to their advantage with the extra speed and length.
- Get back on defense: The Hornets are not a good offensive rebounding team, but they are a very good defensive rebounding team, ranking first in opponent offensive rebounding. The Hornets do a good job of holding opponents to one shot, so Miami should only crash a few players on the offensive end, because if not, they will get burned o the fast break.
- Stop Kemba Walker: Okay, this is much easier said than done. Walker is a much improved players in all facets of his game. Miami will need to at least slow him down. He is probably the one Charlotte player they need to keep OUT of the paint. That is where he does his damage. I don’t know what Spo will do, but I would throw a combination of the two rookies at him during the game. Show speed and scrap with Richardson and then strength and power with Winslow. If they can at least slow him down, that would be a big boost.
The playoffs have essentially started now for the Heat. Every game counts since the Heat not only have Charlotte on their heels, but they have Boston, Atlanta, and even Indiana trying to catch them.