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Heat unveil old-school approach in rout of Hornets

Deng gets 31 as Miami roamed in the paint with little resistance

POSTED: Apr 17, 2016 11:28 PM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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Hornets vs. Heat: Game 1

Luol Deng scores 31 points and grabs seven rebounds as the Heat dominate over the Hornets in Game 1, 123-91.

— Nine of the top 10 teams in offensive efficiency this season ranked in the top six in 3-point attempts or 3-point percentage. The Golden State Warriors, one of the best offensive teams in NBA history, ranked first in both. The Heat were on the opposite end of the spectrum, ranking 28th and 27th.

The Heat finished 12th in offensive efficiency and shot better from 3-point range after the All-Star break. But they were the most improved offensive team after the break almost entirely because they averaged 52.8 points in the paint (1st in the league), up from 42.9 before the break (14th in the league). They actually took a lower percentage of their shots from beyond the arc after the break and they have a starting guard (Dwyane Wade) who hasn't made a 3-pointer in four months.

The offensive improvement continued in Game 1 of the Heat's first round series against the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday, their most efficient offensive performance of the season. The Heat scored 123 points (a franchise record for the postseason) on just 84 possessions (146 per 100), cruising to a 32-point victory. And the driving force was their ability to get into the paint and to the basket.

The Hornets were one of the league's best teams at protecting the paint this season. But the Heat put them on their heels from the opening tip on Sunday.

Charlotte could not stop continuous Goran Dragic-Hassan Whiteside pick-and-rolls early on. Either Dragic had a lane to drive, Whiteside had space to roll or Luol Deng was open in the opposite corner. Miami scored on 14 of its first 17 possessions and, by the end of the first quarter, had outscored Charlotte 20-4 in the paint and 41-22 overall. The rout was on.

The Heat's final bucket of the first period was a perfect illustration of how the night went. Dragic brought the ball up the floor toward a sideline screen set by Amar'e Stoudemire. Jeremy Lin anticipated the screen and angled his body to stop the action from happening, so Dragic just changed direction and went straight to the basket for an unimpeded layup.

"We played, defensively, a terrible game," Hornets coach Steve Clifford said afterward, "disorganized, not intense, nothing like what we're going to have to do.

"It started with our pick-and-roll defense."

The Heat shot 9-for-18 from 3-point range on Sunday; Deng was 4-for-6 on his way to a season-high 31 points. But it was their relentless attack that defined this performance (they were 22-for-29 in the restricted area) and it didn't stop when they took a shot. Miami crashed the glass and registered 14 offensive rebounds (on just 36 missed shots) and 19 second-chance points against what was the best defensive rebounding team in NBA history.

"We're not the biggest team," Hornets center Cody Zeller said, "but we've been good all year keeping other teams off the glass. They have good size inside, but we just got to be more physical."

The Hornets improved from 28th in offensive efficiency last season to ninth this year by taking and making more threes. The Heat went in the opposite direction for most of the season because they couldn't shoot. But eventually, they decided that they didn't have to emulate the Warriors to put points on the board.

With Deng playing power forward, the Heat have employed the same spacing that 3-point shooting teams do. They've just use the space to attack the basket. They ranked 29th in made threes and sixth in offensive efficiency after the break, and the increase in points in the paint has mostly come from their perimeter players. Dragic went from averaging 5.8 points in the paint before the break to 9.4 after it. Deng went from 4.1 to 7.5. And Joe Johnson averaged almost as many (5.4) as Chris Bosh had (5.6).

"It's required for us," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We had to change our style of play. We really had to buy into a quicker pace and not settling, getting guys on the move.

"We're just trying to maximize our strengths as much as we can."

That was certainly the case on Sunday. There was no settling and it was a one-sided affair in regard energy and aggressiveness as much as it was on the scoreboard.

"We wanted to move," Wade said afterward. "That's the game we've been playing, especially since the All-Star break. Everyone has been feeling involved in what we're trying to do offensively."

The 3-point shot has revolutionized the game. But the most efficient way to score is still at the basket or at the free throw line. And threes are shot better when they're generated by penetration than they are otherwise.

If the Heat continue to be as successful with their attack as they were in Game 1, this series will be shorter than expected. The Hornets had a decent offensive game (91 points on 84 possessions, 37 free throw attempts) on Sunday and still got blown out. Between now and Game 2 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV), their focus will obviously be on the defensive end of the floor.

"Do your job. That's it," Clifford said. "It's not like we're going to have to make a lot of adjustments. We have to do it better."

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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