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Despite 2-0 hole, Hornets will stay committed to game plan

Charlotte's Clifford hopes averages catch up to hot-shooting Heat

POSTED: Apr 21, 2016 9:47 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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— The Miami Heat, a team that ranked 24th in offensive efficiency before the All-Star break and 12th overall, have scored 238 points on just 176 possessions in the first two games of their first round series with the Charlotte Hornets. A rate of 1.35 points per possession is rather ridiculous, especially against a top-10 defense like that of Charlotte.

Miami is up 2-0 after a 115-103 victory in Game 2 on Wednesday. And as the series heads to Charlotte for Game 3 on Saturday (5:30 p.m. ET, TNT), the Hornets have to figure out if the last 96 minutes of basketball was more signal or noise.

The Heat were the league's most improved offensive team after the All-Star break, scoring 7.6 more points per 100 possessions than they did before the break. They've found their identity, they're getting more production from Goran Dragic and Luol Deng, and they're getting contributions from all eight guys in their rotation.

Inside The NBA: Wade On Game 2

Everyone talks about what Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat are doing right.

But 119 points per game on 58 percent shooting clearly isn't sustainable, right?

That's what Hornets coach Steve Clifford is banking on. Clifford was quick to point out his team's mistakes after both games, but believes those mistakes are more about execution than the game plan, which his players can't abandon when things go wrong.

You can't take everything away from them. But shooting is not their strength.

– Hornets coach Steve Clifford

The game plan calls for the Hornets to go under screens set for Dragic, who shot 29 percent on off-the-dribble 3-pointers in the regular season, attempting less than one per game. But what do you do when Dragic hits two step-back 3-pointers in a row, like he did near the end of the Heat's 43-point second quarter? Do you adjust or do you continue to play the percentages?

Clifford wants his guys to stick with the game plan.

"You can't overreact," Clifford said afterward. "You got to stay disciplined to what you're doing. So Dragic makes three threes against the under and then all of a sudden, we're overextending, we're opening up driving gaps."

Hornets Discuss Game 2 Loss

Steve Clifford and Al Jefferson address the media following Wednesday's disappointing loss in Game 2.

The game plan calls for giving space on the perimeter to Justise Winslow, who shot 30.5 percent from outside the paint, a mark which ranked 225th among 233 players who took at least 175 shots from the outside. But what do you do when Winslow makes all four of his jumpers, like he did on Wednesday?

"Winslow hits a couple of jumpers and all of a sudden, we're giving [Dwyane] Wade room, [Joe] Johnson room," Clifford said. "You got to stay with the game plan, because otherwise, that's when Wade really got going. We got spread out. You got to stay disciplined to the plan, whatever you're doing, which is always personnel-based. When we got spread out, that's when Wade got going.

"You can't take everything away from them. But shooting is not their strength."

Well, it wasn't until this series began.

"Guys that we wouldn't mind shooting the ball during the season," Al Jefferson said, "they're knocking them down."

The Heat's shots did stop falling for a while in the third quarter on Wednesday, but the Hornets weren't able to cut into the lead much before Wade and rookie Josh Richardson led Miami on a 14-4 run near the end of the period. Wade led the Heat with 28 points and eight assists, while Richardson, one of the few guys the Hornets do have to respect on the perimeter, added 15 points.

Kemba Walker and Jefferson combined for 54 points for the Hornets, who have played well offensively through two games. So Clifford has no use for your ideas about moving Jefferson back to the starting lineup to give his team a boost on that end of the floor.

"Not to be disrespectful, but you guys, you watch these games, you just come up like something's got to change," Clifford said. "Or sometimes, you just have to do the basic things better.

"Jeff Van Gundy likes to say, 'Writers like to say they made an adjustment.' Usually, the adjustment is some guy that went 1-for-8 went 6-for-8. I'm not joking, but if you're not watching the film, no disrespect, you have no idea what should happen.

"So, this knee-jerk thing about something's going to change ... everybody's asking me for two days, 'What about starting Al so your offense is better?' Our offense was 1.07 points per possession. You guys are looking at 91 points [on just 84 possessions in Game 1]. You're wrong. Sorry."

The potential problem with Clifford's stay-the-course approach is that his team is halfway to elimination. If the Heat's offense doesn't start regressing to the mean on Saturday, the Hornets are going to be facing a 3-0 deficit that no team in NBA history has ever come back from. That Nicolas Batum may be lost for the series with a left ankle sprain makes their situation even more desperate.

The question the Hornets face now is similar to the one the Philadelphia 76ers faced earlier this season on a more macro level: How long can you "trust the process" when the results are really bad?

"I know my team," Clifford said, "I watch my team closer than anybody. I'm going to look and figure out what the problems are. If we need to make an adjustment, we'll make it. But these aren't they're running this stuff that we're having trouble guarding. We got to keep the ball out of the middle. We got to be cleaner with our basic coverages. And we got to make sure that we're not turning the ball over and stay organized on offense.

"So it's not all these great ideas or things that have to change or that this plan is terribly wrong. Sometimes, the other team just makes shots. That's really what's going on."

Clearly the Heat can't shoot this well forever. But only time will tell if the Hornets' game plan works soon enough for them to get back into this series.

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

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