Charlotte Hornets at Miami Heat game preview
With less than a month remaining in the season, the Miami Heat have little margin for error atop the Southeast Division.
The red-hot Charlotte Hornets are one of the reasons why.
The Hornets look to continue their surge and pull into a tie with the Heat on Thursday night in the conclusion of their season series.
Miami (39-28) leads the Southeast by one-half game over second-place Atlanta and one on Charlotte (38-29) in third. The Heat and Hornets have 15 games left, one more than the Hawks.
While all three will likely make the playoffs, Miami is determined to win the division and remain third in the Eastern Conference.
"You know it’s really ‘go time,’" Dwyane Wade said. "You really understand every team is trying to play their best basketball right now. This is the time of the year where it gets harder. You have to take care of games.
"You want to get the best seed as possible. Where we’re at, the third seed is the best seed. We’re looking at that."
The Hornets are similarly examining the seeds as they are also one-half game back of Boston to sit in sixth place in the East.
"If you look at the last 10 years, 75 percent of the home teams win in the first round," coach Steve Clifford said. "The only seeding that’s not where the home team didn’t win the most was the 4-5. … We have to concentrate. That to me is the carrot."
Charlotte has won 14 of 17 games, concluding a 6-1 homestand with Wednesday’s 107-99 win over Orlando.
"The homestand was huge," said forward Marvin Williams, who had 26 points and nine rebounds. "Guys were really looking forward to it. We’ve got to take this show back on the road and hopefully we can play with the same intensity."
The Hornets, though, only managed to make up one game on Miami, which went 4-2 since Charlotte’s homestand began and has won seven of nine overall.
The Heat, winners of a season-high four straight at home, have also outscored the Hornets by an average of 12.2 points in winning the last 14 meetings in Miami, including the playoffs. They haven’t met there since the season opener on Oct. 28, with the Heat prevailing 104-94 as Williams had 10 points and 10 rebounds while Nicolas Batum shot 3 for 12 for nine points.
Williams is averaging 23.0 points over the last four games while Batum has totaled 46 and 16 assists over the last two. Williams had a season-high 27 points while Batum chipped in 21 in the last matchup with Miami, a 98-95 home loss Feb. 5.
Kemba Walker was 6-of-16 shooting for 16 points against the Magic but is still averaging 26.8 points in nine games this month. The Hornets have won 16 of the last 17 games when he scores at least 22.
"They got guys playing on a high level," Wade said. "Kemba Walker is playing just as good as anybody in the league right now. Nick Batum has been very consistent for them all year, being that point forward. They got a complete team. For us, it’s always been a tough matchup."
Wade connected on 11 of 20 from the floor while finishing with 22 points in the February meeting. He’s averaging 23.8 over the last five home games, scoring 19 as seven Miami players reached double digits in Monday’s 124-119 win over Denver.
Hassan Whiteside had a triple-double against the Hornets last month, scoring 10 points with 10 rebounds and 10 blocks.