The Charlotte Hornets won a game Friday against a fierce rival, but in doing so they lost their starting center.
Playing all but five minutes without Roy Hibbert, the Hornets made up a 19-point deficit, led by 10 in the fourth quarter, and beat the Miami Heat 97-91 at American Airlines Arena.
Point guard Kemba Walker led the fourth-quarter charge, finishing the game with 24 points. His free throw with 5.6 seconds left made it a six-point lead.
Heat center Hassan Whiteside finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds.
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The Hornets tied the game in the fourth quarter on a Jeremy Lamb runner, then Ramon Sessions gave the Hornets their first lead on a drive down the lane.
That caused Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to re-insert Whiteside, who had committed four fouls. The Hornets initially went with Spencer Hawes at center and he played effectively, as far as defending Whiteside in the post and finding open shots.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford then switched to Cody Zeller at center with about five minutes left.
Knowing that Whiteside had foul troubles, Walker started attacking the rim, making a fadeaway in the lane and then a layup over Whiteside’s outstretched hands. Nic Batum followed up with an open 3-pointer and the Hornets led by 10.
Three who mattered
Hassan Whiteside: The Heat center finished the first half one rebound short of a double-double.
Kemba Walker: After a rough start, he made a couple of big second-half 3s to keep the Hornets within striking distance.
Cody Zeller: Another double-figure scoring game after missing all the preseason exhibitions.
▪ Jeremy Lamb, who struggled in the season opener in Milwaukee, made a runner late in the third quarter to cut the deficit to a point. A really tough shot.
▪ Whiteside is so big he’s a particularly challenging cover for Hornets backup center Zeller, who started the second half.
▪ Small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had three blocked shots in the first half.
▪ The Hornets got point guard Brian Roberts back from a hamstring strain. Frank Kaminsky (right foot strain) sat out the Miami game, but seemed to be moving well in practice Thursday.
▪ Coach Steve Clifford said Kaminsky might play against the Celtics. He’d be useful matching up with center Al Horford, who has 3-point range.
▪ Nic Batum seems to be really struggling with his shot early this season, particularly from 3-point range.
▪ Hornets small forward Treveon Graham was active Friday. Guard Aaron Harrison was the healthy inactive.
▪ Kemba Walker will be the “Keep Pounding” drummer at Sunday’s Carolina Panthers home game against the Arizona Cardinals.
C+ OFFENSE: The shooting was really poor early, particularly from the Walker-Batum starting backcourt.
B DEFENSE: They played a role in a slew of Miami turnovers.
B COACHING: This team didn’t get all those 50-50 balls that made them look so good against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell