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Heat can't overlook Hornets
MIAMI -- The Miami Heat will be at home Saturday night, and they will be the more rested team when they face the 20-27 Charlotte Hornets.
The Heat is also 3-0 against the Hornets this season.
All of that, oddly but yet logically given recent Miami's tendencies this year, cannot be good news for the Heat.
The Heat (27-21), at its best, has twice defeated the first-place Boston Celtics. Miami has also defeated teams currently securely in playoff position such as the Toronto Raptors and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But at its worst, the Heat has lost four games against last-place teams: the Chicago Bulls, the Sacramento Kings and the Brooklyn Nets (twice).
On Thursday, the Heat hit a new low, blowing a 12-point fourth-quarter lead and losing 89-88 to the Kings when 6-3 rookie point guard De'Aaron Fox somehow got past supposed box-outs to get to the rim for a put-back, game-winning dunk with 3.3 seconds left.
The Kings entered that game with the worst record in the NBA, and Thursday's loss has no doubt upset Heat coach Erik Spoelstra as well as his players.
"We were not ourselves," Heat point guard Goran Dragic told The Miami Herald. "We didn't grind the game out. (Spoelstra) was right. We were a little bit cocky."
The Kings hadn't won in Miami since 2001, and Sacramento coach Dave Joerger said it was only "our fourth win in 30 years here."
Next up, the Heat, which has won four of its past five games at AmericanAirlines Arena, will play host to the Hornets, who lost at Miami 105-100 on Dec. 1. On Dec. 15, the teams had a rematch in Charlotte, and the Heat prevailed again 104-98.
Last Saturday, the teams met for the third time this season, and the visiting Heat prevailed yet again 106-105.
The Hornets, who beat the Atlanta Hawks 121-110 on Friday night, are in good shape health-wise. The only player missing from their lineup is backup center Cody Zeller, who is out until at least the All-Star break due to knee surgery.
Charlotte is led by point guard Kemba Walker, who will match up against Dragic. Walker scored a game-high 29 points in Charlotte's win over Atlanta on Friday.
The Hornets and Heat are similarly set up with traditional, defensive-minded centers -- Hassan Whiteside for Miami and Dwight Howard for the Hornets. Howard had 18 points and 15 rebounds against Atlanta.
Charlotte, which finished 3-2 on its just-completed homestand, also has Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as threats on the wings. The Heat can match them with players such as Josh Richardson and James Johnson
Meanwhile, Walker, signed through the 2018-2019 season, has been the subject of rampant trade rumors over the past month, just ahead of the Feb. 8 deal deadline.
But Hornets owner Michael Jordan recently told the media that he would only trade Walker if he got an All-Star in return.
"It's not like we are shopping him," Jordan told The Charlotte Observer. "Obviously, this season has been a disappointment, and there have been teams asking for our players. ... We ask teams who they like on our roster, and they always say Kemba."
Updated January 27, 2018