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|SI's Marty Burns' Breakdown|
|Charlotte || ||Miami |
| Elden Campbell is a skilled low-post big man and an adequate defender. However, he often plays in stretches, something he can't afford to do here against Mourning. Does he really want to bang with 'Zo? We'll soon find out.
|| CENTER |
| After missing five months recovering from kidney disease, Alonzo Mourning has returned strong. In 13 games, he averaged 13.6 points and 7.8 rebounds in just 23.5 minutes, while looking more comfortable each night. Even at 75 percent, he's a force.
| Jamal Mashburn (20.1 ppg., 7.6 rpg., 5.4 apg.) is statistically one of the top all-around small forwards in the game. However, he shot just 41.3 percent for the season and slumped down the stretch. He also has a reputation for coming up small in the postseason. The 6-foot-11 Brown is the consummate pro, doing the dirty work on defense and on the boards. He'll also make enough open shots to keep his man honest. Mashburn and Brown will need to hit the boards and take full advantage of Miami's vulnerability on the glass.
|| FORWARDS |
| Before 'Zo's return, Anthony Mason was the Heat's MVP. Miami's offense ran through the All-Star swingman, who responded with big numbers (16.1 ppg., 9.6 rpg., 3.1 apg). Until 'Zo gets back in his groove, Mason will continue to act as the catalyst on offense, drawing double teams and setting up his teammates. Bruce Bowen doesn't score much, but he's a terrific perimeter defender. He'll make Mashburn work for his points, and free up Eddie Jones to use his energy on offense.
| Baron Davis and David Wesley form one of the league's toughest backcourts physically, but also one of its poorest-shooting (each hit under 43 percent). Still, Davis' solid court play and pure athleticism make him a tough matchup for Hardaway, who has struggled to score against him in the past. The 6-foot-1 Wesley will have trouble putting up big numbers against Miami's rangy defenders, but he's a proven clutch player. He won three games this season with last-second shots.
|| GUARDS |
| In Tim Hardaway and Eddie Jones, the Heat boast one of the league's top backcourts. The question is, can they stay healthy? Hardaway is nursing a bruised left foot that has left him questionable for this series. Jones, meanwhile, just returned from a dislocated left shoulder. Assuming they can both play, Miami should be in good shape. Jones is the team's leading scorer (17.4 ppg.) and defender, while Hardaway is still dangerous with the ball in his hands and the game on the line. |
| Derrick Coleman, Eddie Robinson, Jamal Magloire and Hersey Hawkins make up the bulk of a thin Hornets' reserve corp. The 6-foot-10 Coleman has tremendous skills, but he just recently rejoined the team after failing to get in proper shape to start the season. Robinson, a 6-foot-9 skywalker, looked impressive at times but has been hampered of late by a strained groin. Magloire provides help on the boards, while the veteran Hawkins is the team's designated long-range shooter.
|| BENCH |
| Brian Grant, Dan Majerle, Anthony Carter and A.C. Green often play a vital role for the Heat off the bench. Grant (15.2 ppg., 8.8 rpg.) did an admirable job filling in at center for Mourning all season, and will continue to play a major role at crunch time. Majerle and Carter are Thunder and Lightning, respectively, off the bench, though Carter is nursing a sprained right ankle that could limit his quickness. Green, the league's Ironman, provides another quality defender in the frontcourt. |
| Paul Silas is known for his low-key approach. However, even he became enraged at his team's up-and-down play this season, calling them soft as "tissue paper." Bottom line: They had the size and talent to be better than 46-36.
|| COACH |
| Despite losing Mourning and Jones much of the season, Pat Riley coaxed the Heat to another 50-win season, his 17th in 19 years. With 'Zo & EJ now back, he knows his club has a shot at reaching the Promised Land. He'll have them ready. |
| The Hornets enter the playoffs having won four in a row. They also split the season series with the Heat. After an up-and-down regular season, they have a chance for a fresh start. In addition, ex-Heat stars Mashburn and Brown should have extra motivation against their former team.
|| INTANGIBLES |
| Despite having to work both Mourning and Jones back into the mix, the Heat managed to close strong, winning seven of their final nine games. After several recent playoff heartbreaks, and with the East so wide open, there's a growing feeling that this could be their magic season.
| After missing most of the season, Coleman returned down the stretch and showed glimpses of being a productive player. Nobody's counting on him, but if he can somehow step in and contribute it would be a huge lift for Charlotte's upset hopes. || 'X' FACTOR |
| Injuries to Hardaway and Carter have left the Heat perilously thin at the point. If either player pulls up lame, Miami might not be able to generate enough offense. They need both players to provide a change-of-pace against the taller Hornets. |
|Burns' Prediction: Heat in 5|