Five keys to the NBA playoff series between the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat, which begins Sunday at 5:30 p.m. with Game 1 in Miami:
Guard Kemba Walker is probably the most important piece for Charlotte getting a series victory here.
Two years ago the Heat double-teamed Walker extensively, but things have changed since then. Charlotte has far more shooting threats than it did two seasons ago, so the Heat won’t be able to blitz Walker like before.
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In four games against Miami this season, Walker averaged 19.5 points per game and shot 43.5 percent from 3-point range. He also had 21 assists compared to just three turnovers.
Protecting the paint
The Hornets have been one the league’s best at protecting the paint. Charlotte allowed an average of 40 points in the paint this past season, which was tied for third-best in the NBA with San Antonio.
Miami lives inside. At 46.5 points per game in the paint, the Heat was fourth-best in the league in that category.
Steve Clifford said the series will be decided in the paint, and the Hornets must protect it.
The Heat plays a slower brand of basketball and depends more on its halfcourt setups.
With that in mind, the Hornets can’t let Miami get cheap transition buckets when the Heat sees an opportunity.
Charlotte allowed 17, 18 and 24 transition points in the first three games against Miami. In the final contest, a 109-106 victory for Charlotte, the Heat had just 10 fast break points.
The league’s premiere shot-blocker, Whiteside has owned the opponent’s rim for the past two seasons.
Whiteside’s 269 blocks this season were 92 better than DeAndre Jordan, who finished in second place. And that doesn’t take into account the number of shots Whiteside has altered by his 7-foot-7 wingspan.
The former Gastonia resident made a strong case this season for defensive player of the year.
Charlotte averaged 29.4 3-point attempts per game this season, which was fourth-most in the league.
Meanwhile, the Heat allows the third-most 3-point attempts in the league. Miami also attempts very few, with its 18 per game finishing third-to-last.