Heat visit Hornets for key East battle
Fighting to make the Eastern Conference playoffs, every game is big for the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat.
Some are bigger than others.
The Hornets and Heat, tied at 29-34 and neck-and-neck with Orlando for the eighth and final postseason spot, meet twice in 12 days, starting Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C. The teams play in Miami on March 17.
Charlotte has slipped, losing eight of its past 11 games, including a 118-108 decision at home on Sunday to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Hornets were within 97-96 with 6:22 to go before Portland pulled away with a 15-2 run.
"I think at this point in the season there's a lot of games that we wish we would have had, so we can't look back at anything," said Charlotte forward Marvin Williams. You just have to focus on what's in front of you right now. We don't have many left, but we do have a lot of work to do.
"I think everyone understands that, so luckily for us, we kind of have a chance to rest up and we'll have a good practice and get ready for a really good Miami team on Wednesday."
Miami is trending in a positive direction.
The Heat seemed to reach a low point on Feb. 25 when they lost at home to Phoenix, their ninth loss in 11 games. But they have since won three of four, with victories over Golden State, Brooklyn and Atlanta, the latter a 114-113 decision Monday night.
"That's the leadership you're seeing from Dwyane (Wade) and Udi (Udonis Haslem) that have been in a situation like this," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said after Monday's game.
Spoelstra referenced a similar situation when those veterans were rookies in the 2003-04 campaign, when Miami was 25-36 before finishing the regular season on a 17-4 spurt and reaching the conference semifinals.
"None of our guys have any awareness of that, but Dwyane and Udi remember that vividly, like it was yesterday," Spoelstra said. "You don't want to get ahead of yourself, but playing good basketball, things can change very quickly. Our team is gaining confidence."
Miami guard Goran Dragic (left calf strain) missed his second consecutive game on Monday night. Center Hassan Whiteside (hip strain) returned after missing three games, although he came off the bench.
Wade, third on the team in scoring at 14.3 points per game, reached a milestone Monday when he became the most prolific shot-blocking guard in NBA history. Wade is up to 1,052 blocked shots in the regular season and postseason, one more than Michael Jordan had.
Charlotte continues to rely on All-Star guard Kemba Walker (25.1 points, 5.8 assists per game) but has also received surprising contributions from little-used center Frank Kaminsky in the past two games. He scored 15 on Friday against Brooklyn and followed with 18 vs. Portland.
"He looks really aggressive right now, asserting himself. We're looking for him; he's playing with a lot of confidence right now, shooting the ball, driving and creating offense for us as well as battling on the boards," coach James Borrego said on NBA.com. "We're going to need him. We need that spark, and he's giving it to us right now."
The Hornets won both meetings earlier this season, back in October. They won 113-112 in Miami and 125-113 at home.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 5, 2019