Charlotte Hornets At Miami Heat


Charlotte Hornets At Miami Heat

American Airline Areana, Miami, Florida

7:00PM ET

The Charlotte Hornets, fresh off a close win over the dismal Philadelphia 76ers, are taking their talents to South Beach in what is a virtual elimination game in the race for the Eastern Conference’s last two spots in the playoffs.

Miami and Charlotte are both currently out of the top eight, but strong finishes by either team can easily propel them into the post-season. However, given the injury woes suffered by both organizations, that will be a tough task for either squad.

Miami features Chris Bosh, out for the season, Chris Andersen, questionable, Hassan Whiteside, questionable, Luol Deng, questionable, and Michael Beasely, questionable. Bosh was diagnosed with a blood clot in his lungs, turning what seemed like a major opportunity after the Goran Dragic trade into a disappointing end to the year. Andersen bruised his left foot last week, while Whiteside cut his hand so severely it required 10 stitches.

Meanwhile, Deng hurt his thigh and Beasely injured his knee on Sunday. The Heat have a rag-tag line-up, featuring Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, and bodies picked off the scrap heap.

They will receive no sympathy from the Hornets, however, with Charlotte losing Al Jefferson possibly for the rest of the season due to a knee injury. Cody Zeller is also out with lingering shoulder issues, while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is still waiting to get back on the court following an ankle sprain.

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Both sides know this is a big game, with Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra calling it the “biggest game of the year”:

"“We can’t stress out about the other teams, at some point we got to take care of our own business,” Spoelstra said. ” … We have to focus on Tuesday, get healthy, get right and realize we’re still fighting and kicking and we have an opportunity. We’ll use the next 48 hours to get to that mind-set to get ready to really compete on our home court for the biggest game of the year.”"

Spoelstra is correct. This is the biggest game of the year for both teams. It is a “loser leaves town” match, as the vanquished will be in a bad place in regards to the playoff race.

If Charlotte were to lose tonight, then the Hornets would have to go undefeated in the last five games while hoping for mediocrity or worse from three of the other four contenders. If the Heat lose, then they face the same dilemma, only with one less game to play.

No, there will be no dawn for the loser of this game. Even with a win, these teams face long odds on getting to the NBA’s season-ending tournament. A defeat in this one, and its time to start thinking about the NBA draft and what the off-season will bring.

There are few truly must-win games in sports, and while mathematically this is not a must-win, a loss here would be psychologically crushing in addition to the ramifications record-wise.

In order to grab that win, the Hornets need three things:

1) Control the paint. In the game against the Pacers, the inside play of the Hornets was found wanting. They were out-rebounded and outplayed in the paint. Jason Maxiell and Marvin Williams especially were pushed around inside.

2) Kemba Walker needs to shoot the ball well. Walker is shooting well below 40% for the year, but he has been especially inefficient since returning from knee surgery. The game against the 76ers saw a turnaround, however brief it might be, in his shooting numbers. He needs to continue that efficient play against the Heat.

3) Mo Williams needs to start stroking it from outside. When he first arrived with this team, he found plenty of open looks, and he took advantage. However, with the inside play diminished due to Zeller and Jefferson being out of the line-up, Williams has found it harder to get a clean look. This has led to him forcing the ball at times, and his shooting has suffered.

In Miami, Williams needs to be patient and to hit any open looks he does get. Williams, Walker, and the gang inside must play well, or the Hornets will have no chance, and the season will be lost.

Next: Parsing Playoff Scenarios