MIAMI (Sports Direct Inc.) –The Miami Heat just got done sweeping a home-and-home set from the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers and are knocking on the door of the No. 8 spot in the East.
The Charlotte Hornets, who visit the Heat on Wednesday, are just beginning to play well again and are trying to drag themselves back into the race for a postseason spot.
Miami breezed past a Cavaliers team without LeBron James and Kyrie Irving 120-92 on Saturday but backed that win up with a 106-98 triumph at Cleveland on Monday in which the two All-Stars both played heavy minutes. The Heat are winners of 19 of their last 23 games and got a big boost on Monday from shooting guard Dion Waiters, who pulled out of a shooting slump and posted a team-high 29 points on 12-of-24 shooting. The Hornets made a brief stop at home on Monday after a seven-game road trip and showed off the type of challenge they can present when they lock in at the defensive end in a 100-88 triumph over the Indiana Pacers. “We played with good energy in the first half, which was the biggest thing I was worried about coming off of that trip and plane ride yesterday,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford told reporters. “The guys had good readiness. Our No. 1 problem has been our fourth-quarter defense and to hold them to 22 in the fourth, the guys did a good job. It was a good win and we’re playing more consistently.”
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, FSN Southeast (Charlotte), FSN Sun (Miami)
ABOUT THE HORNETS (28-35): Charlotte All-Star point guard Kemba Walker was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday and celebrated by dropping 28 points and seven assists on the Pacers later that night. The UConn product is averaging 29 points while shooting 47.9 percent from 3-point range over the last five games and committed only one turnover in each of the last three contests. The Hornets sit three games behind the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons, who are tied for the Nos. 7 and 8 spots in the East, and can look forward to a stretch of eight of 10 at home after Wednesday’s visit to Miami.
ABOUT THE HEAT (30-34): Miami is 1 1/2 games behind the Bulls and Pistons after its record dropped as low as 11-30, and it ranks as the hottest team in the East. “We believe in ourselves and if other people don’t, we have done a good job of opening eyes,” Waiters told the Miami Herald. “We need to keep flying under the radar.” Waiters is making his way onto plenty of radars around NBA circles with his play over the last two months but combined to go 4-of-21 from the floor in a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday before stepping up on Monday in Cleveland.
1. Heat PF James Johnson (elbow), SG Tyler Johnson (shoulder) and SF Luke Babbitt (back spasms) are all day-to-day.
2. Hornets C Cody Zeller contributed 13 points and 11 rebounds in 34 minutes on Monday – his highest totals in four games since returning from a quad injury.
3. Charlotte took the first two meetings this season, including a 97-91 triumph in Miami on Oct. 28.
PREDICTION: Heat 106, Hornets 103