Heat, Hornets look to maintain momentum

NBA

Something old, something new — that’s what will be in play on Monday night when the Charlotte Hornets visit the Miami Heat.

Something old is Jimmy Butler, the 31-year-old Heat star who returned to action on Saturday night against the Sacramento Kings after missing 10 straight games due to COVID-19 protocol. Butler delivered a season-high 30 points to go with a game-high eight assists and seven rebounds in 34 minutes. He also had zero turnovers and made the go-ahead layup with 42 seconds left in a 105-104 win.

“You simply cannot put a modern-day analytic to Jimmy’s will to win,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He was not going to let us lose.”

Something new is LaMelo Ball, the Hornets rookie who could be making his first NBA start on Monday. On Friday night, in a 126-114 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, Ball provided a team-high-tying 27 points and a game-high-tying nine assists to go with five rebounds, four steals and just one turnover.

Hornets coach James Borrego said Ball has infectious energy.

“What makes him special is that he loves the game,” Borrego said. “He has great joy for his teammates. He makes me want to coach with more joy.”

Ball was 8-for-10 shooting against the Bucks, including going 2-for-3 on 3-pointers. He was also 9-for-9 from the free-throw line.

For the season, Ball — the third pick in the 2020 NBA Draft — is second on the Hornets in assists (6.1), fourth in rebounds (5.9) and fifth in scoring (12.2). His three-point shooting (29.9 percent) needs work, but he is clearly enjoying himself.

“He makes everyone around him better,” teammate Miles Bridges said.

Ball’s possible ascension to the starting lineup has to do with his productivity and also due to Terry Rozier’s sprained right ankle. Rozier was injured in the first half against the Bucks, and he did not return, playing just 18 minutes as the Hornets won their second straight game.

Rozier is second on the team in scoring (18.6) and in three-point percentage (43.5). But his assists average (2.8) pales in comparison to Ball, indicative of their different playing styles.

The other big story in Charlotte is rejuvenated forward Gordon Hayward, 30, who is on pace for the best scoring season of his career (23.2).

For Miami, Butler leads the team in assists (5.7) and steals (1.9) while ranking second in scoring (17.9). He makes 91.1 percent of his free throws, which is vital because he gets to the foul line so often, including a 14-for-16 performance on Saturday.

Bam Adebayo has carried the Heat most of this season, leading the team in scoring (19.9) and rebounds (9.4) while ranking second in assists (5.5).

But Miami has been plagued by injuries/illness, even after getting Butler and Tyler Herro (neck) back within the past few days. Five players remain on the injured list: Avery Bradley (knee), Goran Dragic (groin), Maurice Harkless (thigh), Meyers Leonard (shoulder) and Chris Silva (hip).

Dragic, who is fourth on the team in scoring (15.9) and third in assists (5.3), is the biggest piece still missing from Miami’s attack, but Bradley (9.8 scoring average) should have a key role upon his return. Both of them are considered day-to-day.

Meanwhile, Herro, who is third on the team in scoring (17.5), learned his housemate tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday night. It’s possible Herro could have to quarantine and miss games, including Monday against the Hornets.

–Field Level Media

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