Scouting Report: Heat vs. Hornets

Updated: April 16, 2004, 6:30 PM ET
By Brian James | Special to ESPN Insider
Heat plus-minus breakdown | Hornets' plus-minus breakdown

Brian James, a former assistant coach with the Pistons, Raptors and Wizards, spent the 2003-04 season scouting for the SuperSonics. Insider tapped his NBA expertise to break down each playoff series.

Let's face facts. This first-round matchup features two teams that were headed in opposite directions as the regular season came to a close. Miami has won 17 of its last 21 to go from out of the playoffs to securing the home-court advantage in the opening series. It's no secret that, down the stretch, Miami had its top seven players healthy for the first time all year.

This is after starting the season 0-9 under new coach Stan Van Gundy -- so going 42-31 since then is tremendous. He will garner more than his share of coach-of-the-year votes.

New Orleans, on the other hand, lost seven of its last 11 games. Since Jan. 28, when the Hornets were 26-19, they slipped back to the .500 level by the end of the season. And while Jamal Mashburn was left off the Hornets' playoff roster to a bone bruise in his right knee that has not healed, Miami has improved 17 games from last season and is in the playoffs for the first time since 2001.