Heat (39-28) vs Hornets (37-29)
Where: Miami, FL
When: Thursday, March 17, 7:30 PM ET
TV/Radio: FS-SUN/790 AM
The Miami Heat are looking for another home win versus the Charlotte Hornets, after coming up victorious 124-119, against the Denver Nuggets. The 39-28 Heat are currently tied with the Boston Celtics for the third seed in the East.
Miami has been on a roll lately. Between Hassan Whiteside continuing to explode in his role off of the bench and rookie Josh Richardson scoring a career-high 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting (and 4-6 from the 3-point line) against the Chicago Bulls, the Heat are definitely looking like a group of championship contenders.
The season series between these two teams currently stands at 2-1, with Miami leading. If they are able to win against Charlotte on Thursday evening, they will have won the series five times in the last six years.
While the Heat will compete in their second of three games at home, the Hornets are on the second night of back-to-back matchups. They won 107-99 against the Orlando Magic at home, on Wednesday night.
Although Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Spencer Hawes are both still out for Charlotte, Miami may have to survive without Hassan Whiteside. According to sources, he was limited at practice on Wednesday due to “general soreness.”
Matchup to watch: Goran Dragic vs. Kemba Walker
The year started off on a shaky note for Dragic. While Heat Nation was thrilled when he signed a long-term contract with the team during the summer, things did not fall into place for the guard for quite some time. He still had to adjust to Miami Heat basketball, and the organization had to figure out how to best utilize him.
However, those days seem to be behind him; the dragon is finally unleashed.
So far this month, Dragic is averaging 17.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists on 35.3 minutes of play.
Meanwhile, Kemba Walker has had to take over for the Hornets, after Kidd-Gilchrist was forced to have season-ending shoulder surgery. And he has done a mighty good job at that.
Kemba was recently named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, after ranking second in the East in points per game (27.8) and first for 3-point field goals per game (4.0). He averaged 6.8 assists and 5.0 rebounds, shooting 53.8 percent from the field (as well as 51.6 percent from beyond-the-arc).
In other words, this will definitely be quite a battle to watch. And Dragic will certainly have his work cut out for him.
X-Factor: Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson
Winslow and Richardson, nicknamed Rook 1 and Rook 2, have made quite the come-up recently. Although the organization was highly praised for drafting Winslow in the first place, his contributions were not as obvious at first, at least on paper. What he added to the team went beyond strict numbers, and while that is still the case, he has also started to blossom on the court as well.
Following Richardson’s earlier impressive performance, Winslow scored a career-high 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, in the team’s win against the Nuggets.
As for Richardson, it is clear his confidence level has skyrocketed recently. And for good reason. After a successful Summer League performance, the rookie was overlooked for most of the year so far. But that has all changed. Richardson will without a doubt continue to be a threat, his talent only further developing as time goes on.
The Heat will have to employ all hands on deck for this matchup, so the rookies better come prepared to win.
Miami Heat offensive efficiency: T-15th, 103.0 points per 100 possessions
Miami Heat defensive efficiency: 6th, 100.8 points allowed per 100 possessions
Charlotte Hornets offensive efficiency: 9th, 104.5 points per 100 possessions
Charlotte Hornets defensive efficiency: 9th, 101.8 points allowed per 100 possessions