With the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets locked into a 2-2 tie in their first round series after holding serve in their home court, what was once looking like smooth sailing into the next round after two easy victories at the AmericanAirlines Arena has now turned into something quite different.
Nicolas Batum's injury in Game 2 forced Hornets coach Steve Clifford into a new starting five featuring rookie Frank Kaminsky at the 4 and Marvin Williams sliding into the small forward position. Not only has that starting line-up played well in Charlotte but it's also opened the doors for Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin (off the bench) to have huge games. Has the officiating been a bit generous to the relentless attack mode of Charlotte's guards? Perhaps, but there's no denying that the Heat have been more passive with little of the deadly efficiency of Goran Dragic's penetration and too much dribbling at the top of the key and settling for 3-pointers and contested jumpers.
Joe Johnson has struggled with his shot and Luol Deng was never going to be able to sustain his early hot shooting at the rate he was going, but Hassan Whiteside (who is dealing the effects of an injured right thigh) must step up big time and play like the dominant force he can be. Dragic and Wade need to get him involved early and often in order to free him up with their penetration and well-timed passes to him. On the other end, Al Jefferson is just schooling him with a variety of nifty post-up moves and excellent footwork.
On the surface, the Heat's almost effortless offensive onslaught in the first two games may have given the impression they would wrap up the series in quick fashion but the more likely scenario would be for Charlotte, at home, to regain the form they showed after the All-Star break to be one of the NBA's hottest teams. The reality is also that while Miami is the #3 seed, their identical regular season records also indicates the two teams are by and large evenly matched. If only the Heat had an All-Star caliber power forward with championship experience that could spread the floor with his range.
Charlotte Hornets @ Miami Heat
Game 5: Eastern Conference Playoffs First Round
8:00 PM EST
TV: TNT, Fox Sports Sun / Radio: 790, WRTO MIX 98.3 FM (Spanish)
Miami: Chris Bosh (blood clot) OUT, Tyler Johnson (shoulder) OUT
Charlotte: Nicolas Batum (left foot strain) QUESTIONABLE
|Kemba Walker||PG||Goran Dragic|
|Courtney Lee||SG||Dwyane Wade|
|Marvin Williams||SF||Joe Johnson|
|Frank Kaminsky||PF||Luol Deng|
|Cody Zeller||C||Hassan Whiteside|
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