Hornets on roll heading into meeting with Heat
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The Charlotte Hornets will seek to continue the momentum created by coach Steve Clifford's return when they go after a second consecutive home win and third straight overall Saturday night against the Miami Heat.
All five starters and two reserves scored in double figures Wednesday when the Hornets thrashed the Washington Wizards 133-109 in Clifford's first game back after taking a five-week leave of absence to deal with stress-related headaches.
A 77-point first half created a comfortable situation for all Hornets in the win, which was their second in a row against a team currently battling for playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Charlotte won 118-107 at Detroit on Monday.
After watching his team put up its highest point total of the season, Clifford pronounced the team -- and himself -- healthy.
"It feels good. Physically, I feel really good," he assured after the game. "But we need to win, so that's the best thing."
The Hornets catch a bit of a break Saturday when facing a Heat club that played Friday at Brooklyn and then traveled into Charlotte early in the morning.
On the eve of the matchup, Heat coach Eric Spoelstra was more concerned about his colleague than the schedule.
"It's great (that he's back); we texted this week," Spoelstra said of Clifford. "That's scary. There's a great deal of stress to this position, so all the coaches empathize with what we're going through. It's a great opportunity and none of us take it for granted, but it also reminds us you have to be very intentional about taking care of yourself.
"I've gone down that road and we're not perfect. I think all of our defaults is to become more obsessive, and a lot of times that's counterproductive, so it's a really difficult thing to fight against. But we're all thrilled to have him back out there and you could see the team felt great about it to in just how well they played."
The Heat allowed a 10-point halftime lead slip away in a 101-95 loss at Brooklyn that gave Miami a 1-2 record to open a five-game trip after a seven-game winning streak.
The back-to-back set on the road is the Heat's fourth of the season. They've lost two of three on the second night after winning two of three on the first night in their first three two-in-two's.
The Heat were playing a back-to-back when they won at Charlotte 104-98 last month. They completed a sweep when they returned home and beat the Los Angeles Clippers the next night.
Miami's bench was the difference-maker in the win over the Hornets. Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Bam Adebayo and Jordan Mickey combined for 51 of the 104 points on 19-for-28 shooting.
That foursome outscored a six-man Charlotte reserve crew 51-35.
The Heat had also used superior bench play to edge the Hornets 105-100 two weeks earlier in Miami.
That night, Johnson and Ellington teamed with Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson as the four-man wrecking crew off the bench, combining to outscore the Charlotte backups 44-39.
The Heat will have to deal not only with a Hornets team inspired by its coach Saturday, but also by two veterans making a late push to make the Eastern All-Star team as reserves.
Dwight Howard has been on a major roll of late, having averaged 15.8 points and 13.5 rebounds in his last 11 games.
Kemba Walker, meanwhile, has had 30- and 41-point explosions among his last eight games, during which he's averaged 22.8 points per game.
Updated January 20, 2018