- The Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets are co-favorites to win the Southeast Division
- Can Miami continue to overwhelm opponents with Justise Winslow as its new point guard?
- Will Kemba Walker snap out of his funk and rediscover his touch?
The Southeast Division is officially a toss-up.
The oddsmakers at BetOnline have given the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat identical +175 odds of winning the NBA’s most underwhelming division. The new odds represent a significant departure from a month ago when the Hornets appeared to be in the driver’s seat after putting together their longest winning streak of the season.
2019 Southeast Division Odds
|Which Team Will Win the Southeast Division in 2018-19?||Record||Odds at BetOnline|
James Borrego’s club has since lost a pair of overtime thrillers to the Knicks and Nets and is still licking its wounds from a 28-point blowout against the Lakers. The Hornets allowed LA to shoot 42% from beyond the arc and gave up 20 points off of 18 turnovers.
It’s been a different story for the Heat, who have won five of their last six games and appear to have gotten their groove back after stumbling out of the gates. Miami’s latest winning streak included impressive victories over New Orleans, Houston, and Milwaukee, a trio of playoff contenders that would have wiped the court with them when the season began.
We’ve taken a deep dive into Charlotte and Miami’s analytics and have come up with three definitive reasons why the Heat are rising and the Hornets are coming back to earth.
1. Kemba Has Gone Cold
One of the keys to Charlotte’s early season success was the lights-out play of Kemba Walker, who averaged 30.1 points per game during the opening month of the season. The two-time All-Star scored 37 points or more three times in his first seven games and dropped a career-high 60 points against the Sixers on November 17th.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Kemba Walker and his 60-point night 👏 pic.twitter.com/o9Wj2N7s2H
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) November 18, 2018
Fast forward to December, and Walker is now averaging just 21.2 points per game. His field-goal percentage has plummeted by 7% since October, and his three-point percentage has dropped by close to 11% over that same span.
Kemba Walker’s field-goal percentage has plummeted by 7% since October, and his three-point percentage has dropped by close to 11% over that same span.
Part of that drop off is just a regression to the mean as Walker has never been a particularly efficient scorer, but it’s also due to the increased attention he’s been receiving on a nightly basis. Defenses have been keying in on the UConn alum like never before, chasing him off the line and sending double teams whenever he ventures into the paint. Walker won’t admit it, but the burden of having to carry Charlotte’s offense on every single possession is clearly wearing him down.
2. Justise is Making a Point
It took four seasons and close to 185 games, but Justise Winslow has finally found his true position as the Heat’s de facto point guard. The 6’7″ bruiser slid into the starting lineup on December 8th following a knee injury to Goran Dragic, and has been averaging 14.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.4 steals per game ever since.
Justise Winslow “is our starting point guard,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s a big responsibility. He loves those kinds of challenges.”
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) December 26, 2018
Winslow may not have the smoothest handle in the league, but he’s done an exceptional job of protecting the ball against smaller and speedier foes. “I feel comfortable bringing it up against anyone,” he said before Friday’s game against the Cavs. “I’ve played against Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley recently. Those guys kind of picked up.”
Justise Winslow since his switch to point guard has balled out this year in the absence of Goran Dragic 👀 What do you think Justine’s ceiling will be? pic.twitter.com/dRHImVDzRx
— Hoops (@HoopsJoint) December 27, 2018
Winslow’s real strength remains his defense, and he’s been able to pester opposing guards with his length and physical play. Miami is 17.4 points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor, and that metric should only improve as he continues to adapt to his new role.
3. The Hornets Have Been Getting Eaten Alive Inside
Charlotte’s bigs have been coming up small all season long. The Hornets rank 20th in the NBA in opponent points in paint, 21st in opponent second chance points, and 15th in defensive rebounding percentage.
The Hornets rank 20th in the NBA in opponent points in paint, 21st in opponent second chance points, and 15th in defensive rebounding percentage.
Part of the blame goes to Cody Zeller, who’s posting the worst defensive rating of his career. Bismack Biyombo hasn’t been much help either, and has already racked up more DNP-CD’s than rebounds. It’s hard to believe, but Charlotte fans are justified in missing Dwight Howard.
Should You Trust the Heat?
The Heat are far from elite, but they don’t have to be in the Southeast, where all five teams are presently below .500. You can discount the Hawks and Magic, who are already out of contention. You can also look past the Wizards, who have more problems than an algebra book. The Hornets are still hanging around, but they could be one losing streak away from sending Kemba Walker to the highest bidder.
The Heat don’t have much star power, but they’re a hard-working, scrappy squad that hounds ballhandlers and protects the rim. Their defensive acumen puts them at the head of the class and makes them our prohibitive favorite to win the Southeast.