• Charlotte Hornets at Miami HEAT Game Thread and Preview

    Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon The Miami HEAT host the Charlotte Hornets Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets for the home opener now! The HEAT defeated the Hornets 106-73 in their last meeting on May 1. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM.  Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket. 1: What takeaway that you had from the win in Orlando do you think could carry over to Friday night’s game? Couper Moorhead: As Evan Fournier put it following that game, it was drives on drives on drives for Miami. The HEAT’s 44 total drives on the night (producing 23 points and another six assists) was seven more than the league leader averaged last season, and those drives along with transition opportunities and offensive rebounds led to a whopping 74 points in the paint. It’ll be tough to reach that total consistently without better outside shooting than Miami had on Wednesday, but there’s little doubt that this team’s identity is all about creating spaces and lanes and edges that Miami’s group of quick athletes can utilize in order to get into the paint. That identity isn’t going to change, but the manner in which the HEAT are going to be able to get to it will certainly have to adapt over the course of the season as teams gameplan and, better than Orlando did, stick to those gameplans. Joe Beguiristain: While it will be extremely difficult to hold the opposition to below 40 percent shooting on a consistent basis, I believe Miami can carry over its solid defensive disposition from Wednesday night. It’s no secret that the foundation of every HEAT team, regardless of personnel, is a strong commitment to the defensive end. That was on display often against Orlando, as Miami forced the Magic to shoot just 38.6 percent on the night.  Hassan Whiteside played a huge role in that, especially in a game-changing third quarter for the HEAT. Thanks to his rim protection, Orlando shot a paltry 25 percent in the period. Another thing that might carry over to Friday night is the balanced scoring attack for Miami. Thanks to the team’s pristine ball movement and 27 assists, six players scored in double-figures against the Magic. It’s that kind of unselfishness that leads to wins more often than not.   2: What sort of issues could Charlotte’s new roster give Miami? Couper: The Hornets lost a bit of their offensive punch from last season with the departures of Jeremy Lin, Courtney Lee and Al Jefferson, but they’ve also punched up what was already a strong defensive unit with the addition of Al Jefferson and the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to the lineup. Whether that means a net positive, negative or neutral gain for Charlotte remains to be seen, but pairing one of the better playmaking duos in the league (Kemba Walker and Nic Batum) with a stout defense should be a formula for success. For Miami, that means getting into the paint as well as they did against Orlando could be much more difficult. Kidd-Gilchrist can cut off driving lanes as well as just about any defender in the league not named Kawhi Leonard and Hibbert looks revitalized in a system once again built around his rim protection. As such, Miami may have to find ways to succeed in the in-between spaces, not attacking one-on-one but not taking one or two dribbles straight at the rim either. Joe: While it was still the preseason, Miami got a good look at Charlotte’s revamped roster on October 20. Since the HEAT were without a number of key contributors, there’s not much to glean from that game, but Steve Clifford treated that matchup last week as a dress rehearsal for the real thing. The team is still led by Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum, while newcomers Roy Hibbert, Marco Belinelli and Ramon Sessions try to mesh with the already-established core. In particular, the Walker-Hibbert pick-and-roll should develop over time and cause some problems for the opposition. That said, perhaps the Hornets’ biggest addition is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist coming back from injury. The 23-year-old is easily one of the best defensive players in the league when healthy, and while he’s still developing his offensive game, he took a major leap forward against the Bucks on Wednesday night. In that contest, Kidd-Gilchrist scored 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting, grabbed 14 rebounds and tallied a plus-10 rating. As a result of Kidd-Gilchrist and Hibbert inside, Miami will need to continue to move the ball well to get open looks and lanes to the basket.  3: Do you expect the same starting lineup for Miami and how can it find success against the Hornets? Couper: Dion Waiters wasn’t a big surprise as a starter at shooting when with the thinking that Tyler Johnson would have to play some backup point guard, which he (and Justise Winslow) did, but we didn’t even know if Luke Babbitt would be healthy enough to play a couple days ago so it was good to see him not only on the court but effectively spacing the floor for a unit that was a +11 in 12 minutes. The situation may eventually change once Josh Richardson returns from injury, but we wouldn’t expect Erik Spoelstra to change things up much as far as starters go as long as the success is there. Joe: I do. There’s no reason to get away from the same starting lineup unless there is an injury of some sort. With Goran Dragić, Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside foregone conclusions as starters, both Luke Babbitt and Dion Waiters had their moments on Wednesday night, primarily in the third quarter. Babbitt spaced the floor and opened up driving lanes for the HEAT, while Waiters dished out all four of his assists in the third (two of which were to Babbitt), and kept the offense moving in the right direction. As I stated in my first response, Miami had a very balanced scoring effort regardless of the starting lineup. That’ll be important moving forward.  Highlights: May 1-Hornets at HEAT April 29-HEAT at Hornets Game Notes: Both the HEAT and Hornets are 1-0 on the season. Miami has won 20 of the last 24 regular season games against Charlotte. Wayne Ellington (right thigh contusion) and Josh Richardson (sprained right MCL) are listed as out.   Efficiencies (Rank): HEAT Offense: 108.0 (13) HEAT Defense: 98.6 (8) Hornets Offense: 108.6 (T-11) Hornets Defense: 97.2 (7)


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