If the Charlotte Hornets could just stay whole for an extended period, they might be onto something.
The lineup could be close to that when the Miami Heat visit for Sunday afternoon’s game in Charlotte, N.C.
The Hornets had LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward back in action Thursday night in a 111-96 victory against the visiting Chicago Bulls. Both players missed the previous games — Ball sitting out three and Hayward the past two.
“What it does is it takes so much pressure off the perimeter guys,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said. “Gordon was really good at both ends of the floor. (Ball is) a difference maker. He puts so much pressure on the defense every time he touches the ball.”
The Heat have won three games in a row after Friday night’s 110-105 victory against the Orlando Magic that came with a second-half rally. Miami is 9-4 in January after entering 2023 just one game above .500.
“Being six games over .500 is a very, very good thing,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said.
The Heat beat Charlotte in back-to-back home games in mid-November, the first of those coming in overtime when Butler supplied 35 points. Max Strus had 31 — one shy of his career-high mark — in the next game in what remains his season high.
More recently, the Heat have had several adventures in building a three-game winning streak. They’ve won those contests by a combined 12 points.
“I don’t know if we just want to make it interesting,” Miami center Bam Adebayo said. “Every game is more like a lesson for us.”
Butler was back for Friday night’s game after sitting out Tuesday night with an ailing back. So his recovery with a game set for early in the afternoon Sunday could be a topic.
For Ball, he has been through three stretches of multi-game absences because of injuries.
“Even for him, as good as he is, rarely is a guy going to come back and be in rhythm,” Clifford said.
Ball’s presence in the backcourt against the Bulls freed up Terry Rozier, who notched a team-high 28 points and was credited by Clifford as displaying game-changing defense.
Rozier said when the Hornets have the top unit together, they can look special.
“It feels good to finally have the starting five that was set at the beginning of the season,” Rozier said. “We don’t dwell on the past, we move forward and focus on how we can get better from here.”
Ball shot 2-for-15 from the field but was credited with making a significant impact.
“Just being the guy that the other team’s main focus point is on,” Rozier said. “He’s always a big help out there.”
Hornets center Mason Plumlee has scored 15 or more points in six straight games for the first time in his career.
Charlotte hasn’t won two consecutive home games since defeating Minnesota and Washington on Nov. 25 and Dec. 2, respectively, with a loss at Boston in between. Since the Dec. 2 win, the Hornets are 2-10 in home games.
In the November games in Miami, Kelly Oubre Jr. had 29 and 20 points for the Hornets. He’s out for the season with an injury.