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Hornets looking to avoid season sweep by Heat

Feb 17, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) drives to the basket defended by Miami Heat guard Duncan Robinson (55) during the second half at the Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the return of Gordon Hayward will make a difference for the visiting Charlotte Hornets, who on Tuesday night will try to avoid a four-game sweep of their season series against the Miami Heat.

Miami (51-28) is on a four-game winning streak and leads the Eastern Conference. Charlotte (40-38) currently holds the No. 9 spot and has clinched at least a play-in berth.

As for Hayward, in 22 career games against Miami, he is averaging 17.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists.

This season, though, Hayward has missed 29 games due to injuries. In two games against Miami this season, he has been held to an 11.5 scoring average.

He lasted less than seven minutes on Feb. 7 against the Toronto Raptors before leaving with an ankle injury, and it wasn’t until this past Saturday that he was able to return in a 144-114 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Hayward posted five points, four assists and three rebounds in nearly 17 minutes as a reserve in that game, and Hornets coach James Borrego indicated he will be cautious with Hayward going forward.

“He looked comfortable, but it’s going to take a minute,” Borrego said. “I didn’t see any hesitation or reservation from him, and that’s a positive.”

Including Hayward, the Hornets are a perimeter-based team. Miles Bridges leads Charlotte in scoring (20.3) and ranks second in rebounds (7.1). LaMelo Ball leads the squad in assists (7.5) and ranks second in points (19.9). And Terry Rozier ranks third in scoring (19.3) and second in assists (4.4).

Meanwhile, Miami is without coach Erik Spoelstra due to the NBA’s health and safety protocol.

Heat assistant coach Chris Quinn ran the team Sunday night in a 114-109 win in Toronto.

The Heat faced the Raptors without injured starters Jimmy Butler (toe) and P.J. Tucker (knee) as well as reserves Dewayne Dedmon (ankle) and Gabe Vincent (toe).

“We’re trying to make the best decisions for the players and the team going forward,” Quinn said.

Even so, the Heat still had enough firepower as Max Strus scored a team-high 23 points on 7-of-9 3-point shooting, and Kyle Lowry had a double-double with 16 points and a game-high 10 assists.

In addition, Heat guard Tyler Herro nearly had a triple-double with 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, and fellow reserve Victor Oladipo — plagued by injuries the past three years — had a season-high 21 points on 6-of-9 3-point shooting.

“True professional,” Lowry said of Oladipo. “He hasn’t played in a couple of games. He has been out of the rotation. But I’m so proud of Vic. He found a way to impact the game.”

Butler, who could return on Tuesday, leads Miami in scoring (21.3) and steals (1.7) while ranking second in assists (5.5). Herro is an elite off-the-bench scorer (20.6), and Bam Adebayo is one of the most versatile centers in the game, averaging 18.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists.

But Quinn had special praise for Lowry, who is averaging 13.4 points and a team-high 7.6 assists.

“Kyle imparts his wisdom,” Quinn said. “He brings his basketball IQ, and that’s what makes Kyle who he is as our point guard.”

–Field Level Media