• Miami HEAT at Charlotte Hornets Game Thread and Preview

    Photo Credit: Joe Murphy The Miami HEAT face the Charlotte Hornets Friday night at Spectrum Center. The HEAT defeated the Hornets 105-100 in their last meeting on Dec. 1. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 6:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket. 1: What was your takeaway from the home loss to Portland? Couper Moorhead: We’ll discuss Miami’s defense in this one shortly, as it relates to Friday’s matchup, but this is a good time to highlight just how good Wayne Ellington has been. The HEAT’s offense wasn’t operating at peak efficiency on Wednesday, though the earlier quarters involved some nice away from the ball movement, but Ellington was incredible as he hit 6-of-7 from three in the first half and 7-of-10 overall for 24 points. While the HEAT do quite well generating open catch-and-shoot opportunities for their shooters, Ellington has a rare ability to succeed by almost creating his own offense without the ball in his hands. He’ll often cover the width of the court twice before ever touching the ball, and teams are so keyed in on stopping him that he has less than half a second to catch and release before the defense recovers. Those shots won’t always fall due simply to degree of difficulty, but Ellington has been such a strong source of offense that it almost hasn’t mattered which lineups Miami uses off the bench lately. If he’s in the lineup, it’s had success at one point or another. Joe Beguiristain: It was just a tough loss. After Miami jumped out to a double-digit lead thanks to Wayne Ellington’s torrid start, Damian Lillard took over down the stretch to give Portland the narrow victory. While Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined for 46 points, Josh Richardson did a solid job of defending the dynamic backcourt duo for a majority of the night. The odd thing is McCollum actually shot slightly better on contested field goal attempts (57 percent) than he did on uncontested field goal attempts (55.6 percent), and the Trail Blazers as a whole connected on 48.2 percent of their contested shots. Now, Portland tends to take tough jumpers off the dribble anyways, but that’s still pretty crazy. Although it wasn’t the HEAT’s best defensive game and there were some breakdowns here and there, they still competed hard against a team that’s improving on the offensive end. 2: What did we learn from the previous matchup with Charlotte? Couper: The only real concrete thing we learned in that game, or were at least reminded of, is how important Kemba Walker is to the Hornets offense. With Walker on the floor the Hornets are a well above-average offense, scoring 109.2 points per 100 possessions. Without him, they score 90.8 per 100, which would be below the No. 30 offense in the league. Charlotte managed reasonably well on December 1, splitting that On/Off difference with an Offensive Rating of 99.8 per 100 thanks to a balanced scoring effort, but that efficiency was on very poor shot quality and it was clear how much Walker’s absence was felt. Now that he’s good to go for Friday night, even with the always underrated Cody Zeller out, this should be a different game. Joe: That last matchup was memorable for a couple of reasons. For starters, Richardson went off for a career-high 27 points, including an impressive and-one finish late in the contest.  Of course, he also defended Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist quite well. Another guy who stood out was Bam Adebayo, who didn’t back down one bit from Dwight Howard. Throughout the contest, the vet tried to go at the rookie in the post a number of times, but Adebayo remained disciplined and played a part in Howard’s whopping nine turnovers. All that said, Friday night will be very different with Kemba Walker back in the lineup. While the Hornets have still struggled overall with or without him this season, he’s clearly the guy who makes their offense work.  3: How might the HEAT attack the Kemba Walker matchup? Couper: Playing Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on Wednesday was a nice tune-up for Walker, who takes even more off-dribble jumpers than either of Portland’s guards (per 100 possessions). Against Portland, Erik Spoelstra had Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo play higher up in pick-and-roll coverage than they normally do (they usually hang back closer to the paint to squeeze the ball into the inefficient mid-range. For a time, that coverage worked wonders as it jammed up Portland’s offense, and Lillard in particular. As the game wore on Portland started to find the seams, hitting the rolling big in the middle of the floor so he could find the open shooter (due to rotations caused by the higher-up coverage) and then splitting the coverage once those roller passes loosened things up. I would expect the HEAT to try something similar with Walker, but they’ll have to stay tight on their helps and recovers because even if that coverage can be effective, Walker has seen it before and knows where to look for weaknesses. Both Lillard and McCollum also went with a little more isolation attacks than usual to avoid always bringing a second defender to the ball, so if Walker goes that route it puts extra pressure on the HEAT’s one-on-one containment. Joe: After dealing with Lillard on Wednesday, the HEAT will have another tall task in trying to stop Walker. While Lillard is a little more efficient in the pick-and-roll, the two have nearly identical shooting splits in terms of volume and field goal percentage by shot area. As Coup mentioned above, Miami’s bigs played up a bit more than usual in the pick-and-roll to impede Lillard and the rest of Portland’s guards. Since Walker is the clear focal point on offense and he doesn’t have a guy like McCollum to really make the defense pay off the ball, I think the HEAT will cover him the same way. That said, Marvin Williams could get hot from deep if Miami’s rotations aren’t quick enough after the initial pass from Walker.  In any event, the HEAT put in work at practice on Thursday and reviewed film to correct their mistakes. We’ll see how it all shakes out. Highlights: Dec. 1 – Hornets at HEAT April 5 – HEAT at Hornets Game Notes: The HEAT have won three straight against the Hornets. Miami has won two of three overall and is 13-14. Charlotte has dropped eight of ten and is 10-17 on the year. Josh Richardson has the best defensive rating on the HEAT (103.1) among players who average at least 27 minutes per game. Kemba Walker leads the Hornets in points (22.1) and assists (6.0) per game. Justise Winslow (left knee strain) and Hassan Whiteside (left knee bone bruise) did not travel with the team.   Efficiencies (Rank): HEAT Offense: 102.3 (23) HEAT Defense: 104.7 (14) Hornets Offense: 103.1 (22) Hornets Defense: 104.5 (12)  

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