CHARLOTTE (CBSMiami/SportsDirect) – The NBA season is nearing its end which means the playoff races are hitting their peak.
The Miami Heat looked as though they were cruising to an Eastern Conference playoff spot a few weeks ago, but four losses in the last six games have put them squarely on the bubble.
The Heat look to turn things around when they begin a critical three-game trip against the Charlotte Hornets – one of their chief competitors for a postseason spot – on Wednesday night.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters of his team that was 24-6 before their current slump. “There’s a ton of emotion right now and it’s all of it. And I love it. I love the guys feeling all of this, the emotion of elation, frustration, anger, disappointment.”
The Heat have fallen to ninth in the East, one-half game out of eighth, and another 1 ½ games ahead of Charlotte after the Hornets fell 118-111 at Washington on Tuesday.
Kemba Walker scored 37 against the Wizards, but Charlotte coughed up a 12-point halftime lead by getting outscored 36-18 in the third quarter.
The setback snapped a three-game winning streak for the Hornets, who play two at home (also Boston) before ending the season with a pair on the road (Milwaukee and Atlanta).
TV: 7 p.m. ET, FSN Sun (Miami), FSN Southeast (Charlotte)
ABOUT THE HEAT (37-40): Miami, which didn’t help itself with a home loss to the struggling New York Knicks on Friday, also visits Toronto and Washington on the trip before coming home for the final two, including a matchup against Cleveland.
Point guard Goran Dragic has continued to produce while averaging 23 points over the last four contests and center Hassan Whiteside owns double-doubles in the past two.
Josh Richardson, getting more minutes with Dion Waiters (ankle) out, scored 17 points in two of the last three games.
ABOUT THE HORNETS (36-42): Walker is averaging 32.3 points over the last three contests and drained 16 from 3-point range over that stretch.
Marco Bellinelli scored 16 to help Walker out on Tuesday while Frank Kaminsky added 12 and is averaging 17 over his last five contests – draining 53.3 percent from 3-point range in that span (16-for-30).
Nicolas Batum (13 points against Washington) is averaging 8.3 assists the past three games and Cody Zeller notched his sixth double-double Tuesday (10 points and 10 boards).
- Miami F Luke Babbitt (hip), averaging 4.8 points, left Sunday’s game and is questionable for the Charlotte contest.
- Charlotte played its first game Tuesday without associate coach Patrick Ewing, who was hired by Georgetown as head coach.
- The Hornets won the first two meetings this season before dropping a 108-101 decision to the Heat on March 8.
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