Shorthanded Miami Heat Limp Into Charlotte


It’s past the midway point of the season so no one deserves any extra pity when it comes to injuries. But the Miami Heat (18-23) are struggling to catch a break as they lost two key starters on Tuesday night.

Hassan Whiteside, the young center who has quickly become a necessary focal point of the offense, rolled his ankle during Tuesday’s loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder. While not considered a serious injury, the team has confirmed that Whiteside won’t travel to Charlotte for Wednesday’s matchup against the Hornets (17-25).

Luol Deng, who played through an illness against the Thunder, will also be out of the lineup.

So how does the Heat respond? While many might assume that the Hornets are the hapless team that started off the season, they’ve bounced back in recent weeks and are one of five teams competing for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. They’v gone 7-1 over their last eight games, an impressive run that has them just a one-half game out of the eight and final spot in the standings.

And they’ve been battling injury issues of their own, as well. Kemba Walker, their star point guard, has missed two games due to a lingering knee injury but is expected to start against the Heat. Lance Stephenson, bothered by hip pain, missed nearly a month of action and is actively being shopped for a trade. Al Jefferson, their low-post monster, missed nine games due to a groin injury.

Their coming back together and just the right time and that could doom Miami’s chances of making the playoffs this season.

But while postseason berths are a goal, the immediate one is figuring out how to get past Charlotte on Wednesday. Chris Andersen might replace Whiteside in the lineup but, with limited frontcourt options on the bench, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra might elect to start Chris Bosh and insert Shawne Williams as a starter. Williams would then likely have the unenviable task of guarding Jefferson (to keep Bosh out of foul trouble) while contributing limited points off the bench.

In Deng’s place, look for Danny Granger – who hasn’t been as effective in recent games – to start the game. Spoelstra could go with James Ennis but his minutes (and production) have been inconsistent.

Of course, none of this makes it any easier to stop Walker, the blazing-quick guard who had one of his best nights of the season against Miami. Explosive speed has always been one of the Walker’s strengths but, while typically a poor perimeter shooter, he simply couldn’t miss when the Heat last faced the Hornets. Will Mario Chalmers (and Norris Cole) meet the challenge head on and limit Walker’s scoring?

Check back with All U Can Heat for a full recap, post-game grades, analysis and more.

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