Wednesday, October 4, 2023
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NBA Preview: Charlotte Hornets at Miami Heat

It’s very early in the NBA season, but Charlotte Hornets wing Miles Bridges is showing signs he could be one of the most improved players in the league.

The 6-foot-6 Bridges is hoping to show his newly evolved game on Friday night when the Hornets visit the Miami Heat.

Through five games, Bridges is averaging 26.2 points — a huge boost over his 11.2 career norm. In fact, all his numbers are up as he is averaging 8.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals while shooting 90.9 percent on free throws, 62.3 percent from the floor and 39.5 percent on 3-pointers.

His career numbers are 5.2 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 82.2 percent on free throws, 54.1 percent on 2-pointers and 35.6 percent on threes.

Bridges has scored at least 30 points in three of his past four games, including 31 in Wednesday’s 120-111 win over the Orlando Magic.

“His confidence is just oozing out of him,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “He’s a very confident kid, and you can feel his will to win games.”

Thanks in part to Bridges, the Hornets lead in the NBA in scoring (121.2 points) entering Thursday.

The Hornets are hoping to get guard Terry Rozier — who has missed four games due to a sprained left ankle — back in the lineup on Friday. Rozier is listed as questionable.

Hornets forward P.J. Washington, who has missed two games due to a sprained right knee, is doubtful.

Rozier led Charlotte in scoring last season (20.4) and Washington ranked fifth (12.9).

Charlotte has started well this season, with four wins in five tries, including 2-0 on the road.

But Miami has been almost as good, going 3-1, including 2-0 at home.

Miami’s big offseason acquisition was point guard Kyle Lowry, who leads the team in assists per game (7.7). But he’s only averaging 7.7 points while shooting 17.6 percent on 3-pointers and 29.6 percent on field goals overall.

The Heat’s main scorers are Jimmy Butler (23.3), Tyler Herro (21.0) and Bam Adebayo (19.3 points, team-high 12.8 rebounds).

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is wary of Charlotte’s shooting. The Hornets are second in 3-point percentage (41.3), making 13.8 per game.

Entering Wednesday, Miami was limiting opponents to just 27.2 percent shooting on 3-pointers. But the Heat were also allowing 41.7 3-point attempts per game, and the Brooklyn Nets made 14-of-43 in a 106-93 loss to Miami on Wednesday.

“I don’t love giving up that many threes, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around that,” Spoelstra said. “But the game is different now, and you can’t take away everything.”

Miami has been impressive so far in defeating a pair of league favorites: the Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks. Miami’s only loss was in overtime to the Indiana Pacers.

But the Hornets present an interesting challenge because of the way they are sharing the ball. Reigning NBA Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball is second on the team in scoring (19.6) but first in assists (6.0). Gordon Hayward is third on the team in scoring (18.4) but second in assists (5.2).

The other key members of the Hornets are forward Kelly Oubre Jr., who signed as a free agent and is averaging 14.2 points; and center Mason Plumlee, who is averaging nearly a double-double (9.2 points, 10.2 rebounds).

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