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Photo Credit: Kent Smith The Miami HEAT face the Charlotte Hornets Thursday night at Time Warner Cable Arena. The HEAT defeated the Hornets 106-73 in their last meeting on May 1. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket. 1: With some of the regulars sitting out Tuesday’s game against Orlando, which performances caught your attention? Couper Moorhead: This might be odd since he’s one of the clear focal points of the team, but with Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside both out it was nice to see Goran Dragić look for his own offense a little more after having spent some of preseason making sure the offense is flowing as intended. While Dragić may not be the sort of player to seek out his own one-on-one offense, that’s a quality Miami will need from time to time when defenses jam up the paint and switch on pick-and-rolls. We know Dragić can push the pace in the open floor and turn the corner on the pick-and-roll, but a small dose of him breaking down his man and finishing with a pull-up jumper or a runner could go a long way toward keeping Miami’s offense balanced. Joe Beguiristain: Two guys in particular stood out to me on Tuesday night. Let’s start with Goran Dragić, who continued to look very sharp this preseason. The 30-year-old raced out in transition and simply looked better conditioned than any player on the Magic. Of course, playing for the Slovenia National team in FIBA EuroBasket Qualifiers a month ago really helped matters. That has gone a long way for Dragić thus far, as he led Miami with 17 points against Orlando. The other player that caught my attention was Willie Reed. With Hassan Whiteside out due to personal reasons, Reed took advantage of his second-consecutive preseason start. The 6-foot-10 center out of St. Louis University aggressively dove to the rim and was always ready for the catch in the post. As a result, he notched a double-double with 16 points and 11 boards.
2: With the HEAT currently sitting in the Top 5 in offensive rating in the league, as of Wednesday, what part of their scoring feels most sustainable? Couper: It remains to be seen whether or not the team can sustain their 40+ percent three-point shooting – a number of players are shooting above career averages but they’re also young players clearly at a stage of possible improvement – but the strongest sign in support of those percentages staying high is that Miami is generating a ton of corner-three attempts. Those shots are almost entirely generated by system – they’re a Spoelstra staple – and ball movement, so high volume from the corners generally means you’re doing something well. That said, when and when not to help off the corners is something teams generally tighten up by the regular season. Joe: With the way the HEAT are moving the ball, the team should be able to continually get good looks from the perimeter. In particular, Dragić and Dion Waiters have done a great job of collapsing the defense and kicking the ball out to open shooters. In turn, that has allowed guys like Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington to get into a nice rhythm from distance. Case in point: entering Wednesday, Miami was ranked in the top-seven in assist ratio (17.9) and in the top-three in effective field goal percentage (55.1 percent). Of course it’s just the preseason, but good habits are starting to form.
3: How will the Miami-Charlotte matchup be different this season? Couper: In order to retain players like Nicolas Batum and Cody Zeller the Hornets lost Courtney Lee, Jeremy Lin and Al Jefferson with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (back from injury) and Roy Hibbert stepping in as replacements. Charlotte may not be quite as dynamic offensively but they have a chance to improve significantly on defense, and perhaps come out even better in the end. For the HEAT, that means dealing with more length when they’re trying to score, particularly at the rim against Hibbert with a Miami offense currently dependent on paint attacks, and defending the same pick-and-roll weapons on the other end. It probably won’t look much like last season’s postseason series, but this matchup could be just as fun in its own way. Joe: Both teams look very different than when they last met in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round. Al Jefferson is on the Pacers, Jeremy Lin is on the Nets and Courtney Lee now plays for the Knicks. While Jefferson missed a lot of time during the regular season last year, both he and Lee were vital in the playoffs. Lin, meanwhile, provided a spark off the bench. In their stead, the Hornets brought in Roy Hibbert, Marco Belinelli and Ramon Sessions. Luckily, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is healthy once again and projects to be the team’s starting three. With Kidd-Gilchrist, Hibbert and Nicolas Batum in the starting lineup, the Hornets should be a very formidable team defensively. The HEAT will certainly have to be wary of Charlotte’s size and athleticism on Thursday night. Highlights: May 1-Hornets at HEAT April 29-HEAT at Hornets Game Notes: The HEAT are 4-2 in the preseason, while the Hornets stand at 2-3. Goran Dragić is averaging 12.8 points, 6.4 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game on 51.9 percent shooting. Frank Kaminsky leads Charlotte in points (12.8) and rebounds (6.4) per contest in the preseason. Efficiencies (Rank): HEAT Offense: 105.7 (4) HEAT Defense: 95.7 (8) Hornets Offense: 92.3 (27) Hornets Defense: 95.9 (9)