What happened on Thursday against the New York Knicks was nothing short of dreadful, even if it’s the kind of game you have to forget about. After all, the Knicks won’t shoot 50% from distance every game, so even if it’s the second time this year the Heat have been victimized that way you have to move on, and so Miami hosts the New Orleans Hornets for a Saturday night matchup.
The Hornets were tied for the third worst record in the league last year at 21-45, and the lottery rolled their way for the first pick and Anthony Davis. Though the Brow has been limited due to a couple injuries and only played in six games, he’s still played real well. He’s scoring 16 and pulling down eight rebounds, and despite his svelte frame he has played well down low. Along with Davis, the other cornerstone of the Hornets future has missed the whole season. That’s Eric Gordon, and even though he’s never been a superstar he’s paid like one and if he gets healthy he could be.
The Hornets are 26th in the league in points per game at 93 and are led by power forward Ryan Anderson with 18.3 points per game. They’re a little better defensively, 18th in the league at 98 points a game. By most measurements Miami should run roughshod over them. But you never know, even if this team is starting Grievis Vasquez they are still NBA players and Miami plays down to their opponent a lot.
What happened last time: The Hornets were a different team when they played the Heat on January 20, 2012. Eric Gordon was their high scorer last year but only played nine games, with Jarrett Jack second on the team at 15.3, and playing 33 games. Miami won 109-95, both LeBron and Dwyane Wade leading the way with 22 points, Mike MIller adding 14 and Norris Cole with 12. Nobody on the Hornets scored more than 14. But again, they were a pretty dreadful team.
Who to watch for: With Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon sidelined, it’ll be up to Roger Mason, Jr. and Ryan Anderson to carry the load. Perhaps we will also see Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Austin has been pretty terrible this year, scoring six a game and dishing out three, but that overstates his value. For the Heat, look for LeBron to assert himself early on both ends, because they need to not fall behind early. Coach Erik Spoelstra needs to play defensive minded players like Udonis Haslem or Joel Anthony, and find some way to get the middle of the paint stabilized so shooters aren’t so open. Shane Battier needs to get healthy too. More generally you should watch for effort on defense by Miami. We know they can lock it down, but whether tehy want to is the question.
Why the Heat will win: They have to. A bad loss to a legitimate rival should drive this team to a crushing victory. They still score at will and the Hornets can’t really stop people very well. If it weren’t for the Wizards loss and the Knicks loss this would be one you pencil in as a win and go home. But no, instead this team is going to keep us on our toes.
Why the Heat will lose: Robin Lopez has a huge game, Ryan Anderson goes 9-for-10 from three, and Austin Rivers finds himself. Combine that with Wade laying another egg and it could be uncomfortably close.
Prediction: Miami 108, New Orleans 94. That score will be garbage time closer though, and Norris Cole should play more than some starters. The Heat need to remind themselves and the fans that they’re not just another team, they’re the defending champs. They need to protect their house and play a perfect game, then do it again the next night. Just because it’s a regular season game against a nothing team, it’s no reason to not go all out.