The Miami Heat will open up round one of the NBA playoffs on Sunday when they host the Charlotte Hornets.
Miami's final regular season game wasn't pretty, but the end-result was the third seed and home court advantage against the Hornets. Part of the reason, Miami finds itself in that position is the four-way tie that Charlotte created with its win. The Heat blew a 26-point lead to the #5 seed Boston Celtics in Wednesday's loss.
During the regular season, Charlotte and Miami faced one another four times including the first game of the year. Miami and Charlotte split those four contests with each winning a game on the road. The teams at times looked very evenly matched which could be a precursor to competitive long series.
In the first game of the year, Miami came away 104-94 winners at American Airlines Arena. Chris Bosh led the way for Miami that day with 21 points, and he will be unavailable this time around. Cody Zeller piled up 12 rebounds in that game, and could be someone to focus on in this series. Dominating the boards and avoiding second-chance opportunities for Charlotte would be critical.
In early December, Miami packed its bags for a road tilt in Charlotte. There they ended up falling by a final of 99-81. Miami's leading scorer in that one was Tyler Johnson with 21 points. As with Bosh, Johnson too will be unavailable for this series.
On Feb. 5, Charlotte once again hosted Miami and this time the Heat won. Behind a triple-double from Hassan Whiteside, the Heat edged the Hornets 98-95. Whiteside hit exactly ten in the points, rebounds and blocks departments. Dwyane Wade led Miami in scoring with 22 in the win.
Finally in mid-March, Charlotte returned to Miami and got revenge with a 109-106 win. The Heat had a 15-point lead in that game and let it slip away. Luol Deng led Miami with 22 points in the loss.
Without Bosh, the Heat have relied more heavily on Deng and he's answered the call. It is likely that will continue in this series with Deng supplementing some of the production Bosh provided early in the year against Charlotte. Joe Johnson has also been very important for Miami since arriving in town and ended the season in strong fashion.
The Heat have a tendency to rely on perimeter shots too often and that was apparent in the aforementioned meltdown in Boston. With Whiteside's ability to dominate inside and take over games, Miami will likely game-plan more inside plays against Charlotte. In addition to Zeller, Al Jefferson should keep Whiteside busy.
Sunday's game is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. Game two which will also take place in Miami will be on April 20 at 7 p.m. The series will then shift to Charlotte on April 23 at 5:30 p.m.
Game four will be April 25 with a starting time to be announced. If necessary, the series will then alternate home courts for games five, six and seven. Those games would be on April 27, April 29 and May 1 respectively, with the final game in Miami.