The longer a series gets, the more difficult it is to surprise your opponent. The Charlotte Hornets have already shown their strongest hand: Jeremy Lin. Now it’s time to focus on what worked and throw away things that didn’t, like Kemba Walker doing a little bit too much of his own thing. The Miami Heat know what’s making them “bleed”, and besides their defensive issues, they need Dwyane Wade to get his s*** back together. And which team will benefit more from Nicolas Batum returning?
When looking at stat comparisons between the two teams this series, two things stand out in favor of the Hornets: Turnovers and free throws. The Hornets turn the ball over on only 7.5% of their possessions compared to 11.2% by the Heat and their FT/FGA ratio is .317, with the Heat at just .212. Charlotte can’t hit three pointers and don’t move the ball very well (part of why they don’t lose it), but they’ve gotten to the line 28 more times (7 per game) in the series so far.
Unlike what we’ve been hearing from some Heat players and especially Hassan Whiteside, it has nothing to do with flopping. The Heat focus defensively on stopping the three pointer, holding Charlotte to just 23.9% from beyond the arc. But the Heat’s defense, with Whiteside as an anchor in the paint, can’t eliminate all the holes. This leaves open lanes for Lin and Walker (when he isn’t in one of his solo moods) to go through. Whiteside has been in foul trouble almost every time, and seems to have let it get to him, as his ability to protect the rim seems to decline with the series advancing.
Why did the headline say Lin with focus? Because the Heat, at some point, will have to start making an example out of Lin and do a much better job on him defensively. It might mean a breach in their defensive philosophy and doesn’t guarantee stopping him, but at least it addresses their biggest problems in the two losses on the road. And more attention to Lin presents an opportunity for Walker. The only problem is what he’ll do with it.
Walker and Lin have made the line 50 times so far in the series combined. Walker has missed just one of his shots. But officials in Miami could make it a bit more difficult to get to the line that easily. Fair? Maybe not, but playoff basketball works a certain way, and at least initially, the Hornets need to be prepared for a storm coming their way and not fold like they did in the first game. Reacting quickly is going to be essential for Clifford, who did a good job with that in game 4 after another horrendous start by his lineup selection.
Batum seems to be pressing to play and he will. Reason suggests he should be coming off the bench, but you never know with Clifford. He’s brought back Batum straight from injury right into the lineup and big minutes before and it backfired. The second unit has been doing a good job so far in it’s ability to change games and turn them in the right direction (mostly Lin anyway) and has its own chemistry thing going on, but if Batum really is back, it’s better to start him off the bench. Yes, this is playoff time, but the Hornets want to re-sign him, and an injury prone player shouldn’t be made worse by playing him too much. The most worrying thing about this is it might take minutes away from Lin, which would be like the Hornets shooting themselves in the foot.
Miami need Wade to get back on the horse. He is averaging 14.5 points in the last two games, shooting only 35.5% from the field and finding it more difficult to take players into the paint and dominate them. He hasn’t been the only one playing well beneath his level, but the Heat getting control back in this series is probably more up to him than anyone else on his team.