The Charlotte Hornets often looked overmatched through the first two games of their first-round series with the Miami Heat, but they find themselves one win shy of evening up the best-of-seven set. After an impressive victory in Game 3, the Hornets host the Heat in Game 4 on Monday night.
Charlotte, a team that had lost their last 12 playoff games, got major contributions from several players en route to their 96-80 win on Saturday. Six players scored in double-digits, including a team-high 18 points from Jeremy Lin. Kemba Walker scored 17 points, but he missed 15 of his 19 field-goal attempts. He was picked up by players like Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller, who combined for 27 points and 14 rebounds.
A major difference was Charlotte’s improved defensive effort. Charlotte held Miami to just 7-22 shooting from beyond the three-point arc, and 34.2 percent shooting from the field. In the previous two games, the Heat scored 123 and 115 points, respectively. The Hornets ranked ninth in defensive efficiency in the regular season.
Lin gave the Hornets a major boost with his highest point total since April 11, while adding four rebounds and four assists. When Lin has a big game, Charlotte often comes away with a victory. The combo guard is shooting nearly 43 percent from the field in wins compared to 38.9 percent in losses. In the first two games of the series, Lin totaled just 20 points, converting four of his 11 shot attempts, to along with three assists.
In the third quarter of Game 3, Lin drained a three-pointer with 3:48 remaining to increase the Hornets' lead to 67-53. In the fourth quarter, with Charlotte leading by a comfortable 22 points, Lin sprinted up the court for a driving layup that essentially shut the door on the Heat. It was an overall strong performance by Lin, who has a well-established reputation for being a streak shooter.
But containing the Heat backcourt of Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic remains crucial for Steve Clifford's squad. It should continue to be a challenge, considering Wade averaged 22 points on 50 percent shooting in the first two games. Dragic struggled with his shot in Game 1 but still dished out 10 assists. The dynamic point guard regained his scoring touch with an 18-point effort in Game 2.
Charlotte will be short-handed for a second straight game as Nick Batum sits with a left foot strain. Batum scored 24 points in the series opener, after averaging 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game in the regular season.
"That's just NBA basketball," said Clifford on Monday, in regards to losing Batum. "I think our guys are good. We've had more than our share of injuries all year and they've had the right attitude. In this league, you get up in the morning, you say, 'Who's good to play today?' and you play the best you can with that team.”
The Hornets were able to overcome the loss of Batum for one game, but doing it in back-to-back games won’t be easy. Aside from Walker, Batum is often Clifford's most reliable player on both ends of the court. Meanwhile, Wade could be in for a bounce-back performance.
The Hornets are a narrow favorite, according to vegasinsider.com. They went 30-11 at home in the regular season.
Start Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBATV
Betting Odds: Charlotte-2, 195.5
Prediction: Miami over Charlotte, 98-96