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By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Kent Smith
The Miami HEAT face the Charlotte Hornets Saturday night at Spectrum Center. The HEAT defeated the Hornets 104-98 in their last meeting on Dec. 15. 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 struck you the most about Miami’s loss in Brooklyn?
Couper Moorhead: That once the HEAT went up 16 points in the third quarter, largely on the strength of a strong individual performance from Hassan Whiteside as the team supported him along the way with strong entry passes, it was the Nets going small that changed the game. In the first half, Brooklyn played a three-center rotation and Miami was able to create some separation against those secondary units, but once Quincy Acy became the nominal center in the second half the entire complexion of the game changed. Suddenly the Nets were operating with a ton of spacing – Acy is a more than capable shooter – and it was that stretch and strain on the defense that led to the Nets late rim attacks that sealed the game.
Typically it’s been Erik Spoelstra going small to change a game in the second half, but as he noted after the game this is what teams will do when you have a big player going strong.
Joe Beguiristain: The main thing that stuck out to me was how Brooklyn responded in the second half. With Hassan Whiteside dominating much like he did against Milwaukee on Wednesday, the Nets countered with smaller lineups and found success more often than not. Miami hung in tough, as Goran Dragić and James Johnson had two clutch drives down the stretch, but Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert hit some big buckets to keep momentum on Brooklyn’s side.
Although it was a disappointing loss, the HEAT still had a chance to win it in the end. If the team defended more to its identity, perhaps things would have been different. Luckily enough, Miami gets a chance to right its wrongs in less than 24 hours against the Hornets on Saturday night.
2: What have we learned from the previous matchups with Charlotte?
Couper: The most important lesson with Charlotte is that of the importance of Kemba Walker. When he’s on the court, the Hornets outscore opponents by 5.2 points per 100 possessions. When he’s off the court, the Hornets get outscored by 12.1 points per 100 possessions. As far as high-usage players go, that’s one of the largest discrepancies in the entire league.
Walker is a premier player, obviously, but that gap is as much about Charlotte’s bench as it is about him. In the two wins over Charlotte this year, the HEAT have regularly won the minutes where the Hornets have mostly bench players on the floor, with Kelly Olynyk a plus-18 in the first matchup and Wayne Ellington a +13 in the second. With the HEAT dealing with a number of injuries their own secondary lineups won’t be the same as in those games, but those are clearly minutes that will go a long ways against Charlotte regardless of who is playing them.
Joe: We’ve learned (or continued to see) just how tough and well-coached the Hornets are. Although Miami had a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter of that last matchup with Charlotte on Dec. 15, the Hornets stormed back and narrowed the deficit to two with 1:31 left before Dragić and Dion Waiters sealed it. That kind of grit and resolve is something we’ve seen from Steve Clifford’s team for years now.
That said, a lot of Charlotte’s success hinges on Kemba Walker and his effectiveness. When he’s doing damage in the pick-and-roll (he’s averaging 1.00 points per possession in the PnR this season) and forcing the defense to react, the Hornets are tough to beat.
That’s been the case of late, as Charlotte has won five of its last seven with Walker and Dwight Howard leading the way. Although Bam Adebayo has fared very well against Howard this season, Whiteside should make things even more interesting. Remember, Whiteside missed the two previous meetings with the Hornets due to a left knee bone bruise.
3: How will the HEAT have to approach attacking Charlotte’s defense?
Couper: Steve Clifford – let us note here how nice it is to have him back after a medical leave of absence – has often opted to shrink the floor against Miami ever since these teams met in the first round of the playoffs two seasons ago. For reference, it’s a style very much like what Miami did to Milwaukee earlier this week. It’s been a little less severe now that they have Dwight Howard protecting the paint, limiting the need to bring in more defenders, but the HEAT have nevertheless used that perimeter space to hit 25 threes over the two games so far.
Now that Miami doesn’t have shooters like Dion Waiters and (as of this writing) Tyler Johnson, their lineups have changed somewhat. Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo are playing spot minutes together and Spoelstra is using more lineups without traditional high-volume catch-and-shoot players. That means they could have less three-point volume to rely on and will instead have to, as they have often over the past few weeks, focus on their half-court execution when it comes to timing, screening and cutting.
Joe: With Dwight Howard patrolling the middle and Charlotte not giving up a whole lot at the rim as a whole, Miami just needs to stay true to its drive-and-kick game. While the Hornets boast a top-10 defense and allow the second-fewest shot attempts per game from the restricted area, they do relinquish a ton of looks from beyond the arc. That rang true in the HEAT’s previous matchups with Charlotte, as Miami launched 66 triples combined over the two games.
As such, Josh Richardson and Wayne Ellington could have big nights on Saturday if the HEAT’s ball movement is up to par. Don’t forget that the Hornets have strong perimeter defenders in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Nicolas Batum to go along with Howard inside.
We’ll see how everything plays out, as Miami looks to bounce back from its loss in Brooklyn.
Dec. 15 – HEAT at Hornets
Dec. 1 – Hornets at HEAT
The HEAT have won eight of ten and are 26-19 on the year. The Hornets have won five of seven and enter the contest at 18-25. Hassan Whiteside is averaging 17.8 points, 12.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game on 65.4 percent shooting over his past five outings. Kemba Walker leads Charlotte in points (21.7), assists (5.8) and steals (1.2) per game.
HEAT Offense: 103.7 (23) HEAT Defense: 104.7 (11) Hornets Offense: 104.2 (18) Hornets Defense: 104.6 (8)
By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Nathaniel S. Butler
The Miami HEAT face the Brooklyn Nets Friday night at Barclays Center. The HEAT fell to the Nets 111-87 in their last meeting on Dec. 29. Tip-off is set for 7:30 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: How were the HEAT able to finish out their win in Milwaukee?
Couper Moorhead: It started with a major second-half run started by Kelly Olynyk as he faked, stuttered and scooped his way to the rim to keep Milwaukee from pulling away with a double-digit lead. And with the game close in the final minutes the HEAT won it with defense. Thanks in part to the Bucks not being one of the league’s better shooting teams, the HEAT were able to shrink the floor and pack the paint against the drive, limiting the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton to either pull-up jumper or contested shots in the paint. With the Bucks struggling to score, it took a couple timely scores and a lob from Justise Winslow to Hassan Whiteside to put Miami over the top.
Joe Beguiristain: It was all about ball movement and defense. After giving up 57 points on 47.6 percent shooting in the first half to Milwaukee, Miami clamped down after halftime and forced the Bucks to shoot just 38.2 percent the rest of the way. While Hassan Whiteside was the man of the hour with a team-high six blocks, including a clutch rejection on Giannis Antetokounmpo late, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow did their thing on the perimeter. Based on who was on the floor at the time, both guys fared well when defending Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton. Having guys like Richardson and Winslow who can switch pretty much everything is so important when trying to gut out wins down the stretch.
On the flip side of the ball, the HEAT continued to move the ball exceptionally well and tallied 28 assists on 38 made field goals. In fact, that type of offensive cohesion has been prevalent throughout Miami’s recent run, as the team has the third-highest assist percentage (62.9) in the league over its past nine games.
2: Is there anything to be learned from Brooklyn’s dominant victory last time out in Miami?
Couper: That you cannot take the Nets lightly. Brooklyn may not have any perennial All-Stars but they play hard and they play together, with a roster full of players more than capable of punishing your mistakes. The HEAT simply weren’t at their best in trailing by as much as 38 at the end of December, but the Nets still had to take advantage and they certainly did with seven players scoring in double figures as they pushed up the floor at every opportunity, launched as many open threes as possible and attacked the rim. Joe Harris was the high scorer, shooting 4-of-4 from three and cutting off the ball, but it was Rondae Hollis-Jefferson who paced the team’s offense, creating shots where there otherwise were none with his improved jumper.
And while there’s no official word, don’t be surprised if D’Angelo Russell makes his return to the Nets lineup Friday night after missing over a month of game action.
Joe: That last matchup really showed how potent Brooklyn is offensively when the team is firing on all cylinders. As Coup mentioned above, the Nets had seven guys score in double-figures and did plenty of damage from beyond the arc.
Like Miami, Brooklyn attacks the basket often to collapse the defense and open things up on the perimeter. As such, the Nets average 49.8 drives per 100 possessions and 25.0 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts per game while also tallying a 59.2 assist percentage. Each of those metrics ranks in the top third of the league.
In other words, this is a team that the HEAT need to be wary of even though Brooklyn has dropped six of its last seven contests.
3: If this game is close going down the stretch, what lineups do you expect Erik Spoelstra to use based on the past few weeks?
Couper: This might sound like a cop-out answer, but it’s the lineup that best fits the game being played. During Miami’s recent stretch of success Spoelstra has been using lineups with a ton of shooting, even going with four guards at times, and rotating out different big men – Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo or Kelly Olynyk – based on the opponent. Those lineups are all made to maximize the open-floor driving ability of Dragić, with shooting to capitalize on the collapsed defenses. But against Milwaukee Spoelstra opted to focus on defense with Dragić being flanked by Whiteside, James Johnson, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson – with Johnson and Winslow both hitting important threes in the final minutes. So, and it shouldn’t be surprising, the HEAT will go with whatever is most appropriate. That doesn’t mean it will always work, but that type of mindset gives it the best chance to work.
Joe: Like Coup mentioned above, it honestly all depends on the flow of the game. All season long, Erik Spoelstra has done a fantastic job of using creative combinations that work in crunch time. Sometimes he rolls with lineups to create more space offensively, while other times he goes with a more defensive-oriented approach. Again, it really depends on who’s performed well and who’s on the opposite side.
If I had to take a guess, perhaps we’ll continue to see Winslow in a more prominent role if Tyler Johnson is out once again. As I mentioned in my first response, the 21-year-old did a great job defensively against Milwaukee (obviously), but he also made some key plays with the ball in his hands on the other end.
The fact that we can’t really predict the lineups shows just how tough it must be to game plan for Miami. When the team is really clicking, there are so many versatile pieces that can beat you in a number of different ways.
That’s a good thing.
INJURY UPDATE: Tyler Johnson (left ankle sprain) will not play in Friday night’s game against the Nets.
Dec. 29 – Nets at HEAT
Dec. 9 – HEAT vs. Nets
The HEAT have won eight of nine and are 26-18 on the year. The Nets have dropped six of seven and enter the contest at 16-29. Over the past nine games, Miami has the third-highest assist percentage (62.9) in the league. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson leads Brooklyn in scoring at 14.7 points per game.
HEAT Offense: 103.8 (23) HEAT Defense: 104.6 (10) Nets Offense: 102.6 (27) Nets Defense: 106.4 (18)