The Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak may be over, but they'll have a chance at getting back on the winning track when they visit the Big Easy to take on the lottery-bound New Orleans Hornets on Friday.
Miami won the initial meeting between the two teams back on Dec. 8, and a season sweep could easily give the team the right amount of momentum with the playoffs fast approaching.
But the Heat cannot underestimate New Orleans under any circumstances. The Hornets have won three of four and are one of the league's youngest teams, featuring potential future stars in Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers. At this point in the season, they have one common goal: play spoiler.
Miami had thus better be prepared, otherwise they could find themselves on a losing streak at the wrong time.
Time: Friday, March 29, 8 p.m. ET
TV: Sun Sports, Fox Sports New Orleans
Records: Miami Heat (56-15) vs. New Orleans Hornets (25-47)
Injuries: Jason Smith (shoulder, out), Austin Rivers (hand, out), via ESPN
Key Storyline: Heat Seek To Get Back on Winning Track in NOLA
It's sad that the Heat's winning streak had to end, but the team is now in a prime position to get back in the win column against New Orleans. Both teams met back in December at the American Airlines Arena with Miami winning 106-90. Star guard Dwyane Wade led the way with 26 points.
But now, Miami must win on the road once again. The Heat have gone 32-3 at home and 24-12 on the road, but their road record is largely due to their recent winning streak.
The Hornets are not a threat by any means, but that isn't an excuse for Miami to go on autopilot and feel that the win will come to them. The defending champions need to be fully locked in, per usual, and just manhandle the opposition like they know they can. If the road to a championship does go through South Beach, it's time for the Heat to further establish that with a big win.
That means refusing to let New Orleans have any opportunities whatsoever, be it on offense or defense. Inexperience must be taken advantage of completely, leaving the Hornets stunned and shocked that they were defeated so badly. Otherwise, Miami can tack another bad loss onto its record.
Key Matchup: Udonis Haslem vs. Anthony Davis
The Heat are the worst rebounding team in the league, and they're surely going to have a tough time stopping rookie sensation Anthony Davis in the paint. The reigning No. 1 pick has averaged 13.3 points, eight rebounds and 1.7 blocks his rookie season and has also shot 52 percent from the field.
Davis has been better over his last five games, posting 15.2 points, nine boards and 1.2 blocks while making 61 percent of his attempts. At 6'10", 220 pounds, he's definitely on his way to a successful NBA career.
The former Kentucky Wildcat will face a tough test against the Heat, as he's almost definitely going to be matched up against Miami's Udonis Haslem.
Haslem is smaller than Davis at 6'8", 235 pounds, and is only averaging 3.6 points and 5.3 rebounds in limited minutes. However, he can make quite the difference in his short amount of playing time.
This is because Haslem is the all-time leading rebounder in Heat history, and he needs to use his 10 years of experience to just take Davis to school. This means getting over the size disadvantage and going after every rebound, even if it means drawing a lot of contact.
The fact is that the former Florida Gator is on Miami's roster for one reason: his strong interior defense. If he can bring his best effort and succeed against Davis, then there is no doubt that Miami can come away with a win.
X-Factor: Ray Allen
If the Heat's offense is to be at its best against the Hornets, Ray Allen must be in pure sharpshooter mode. Even at age 37, he has managed to post 10.8 points per game and shoot 42 percent from three-point land as Miami's sixth man.
Over his last five games, Allen has averaged nine points per contest while shooting an eye-popping 57 percent from beyond the arc.
Simply put, Allen needs to be par for the course and maybe even better in order for the Heat to beat the Hornets. Despite his age, he is still a great catch-and-shoot guard with a keen eye from long range. He can also hit jumpers and even drive the lane.
So long as he can do what he has to do, the Heat have a chance. Otherwise, the Hornets could very well be on the verge of an upset.
Predicted Starting Lineups:
PG: Mario Chalmers
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: LeBron James
PF: Udonis Haslem
C: Chris Bosh
PG: Greivis Vasquez
SG: Eric Gordon
SF: Al-Farouq Aminu
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Robin Lopez
The Hornets would love to play spoiler to the Heat, but they are just too young for that to happen. Miami's offensive attack is dangerous and not one to be taken lightly, and New Orleans will learn that the hard way in this game.
LeBron James will have a triple-double, and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will also score in double-figures. Ray Allen will have a great night from behind the arc, and while he may not have a monster scoring night like he did in the prime of his career, he will still be clutch enough to swing the pendulum in Miami's favor.
Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis will do everything possible to keep New Orleans in the game, but the Heat are just too strong. Miami has this game in the bag and will thus regain the momentum lost from the end of the losing streak.
Miami Heat 107, New Orleans Hornets 95