HEAT 93 - Hornets 96 Recap

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November 5 – Coming off three consecutive 20-point victories, Friday’s game against the undefeated New Orleans Hornets was always going to be a test for the Miami HEAT, a barometer of how far they had come in the two weeks since losing to the Boston Celtics on opening night.

In losing, 96-93, the HEAT showed what was already obvious despite the wins: the team that’s been playing together for less than three weeks has plenty of work left to do.

But, as with the loss in Boston, it was also another example of just how talented the team is. And another lesson.

“We need to learn that we can’t just show up,” LeBron James said. “Every team from top to bottom is going to give us their best shot. We have to bring greater energy to the floor especially at the start of the game.”

With the weight of a 17-point first quarter dragging them down from the tip, the HEAT won each of the final three quarters, gaining their first lead with just under a minute to play off a pair of LeBron James free throws. The Hornets quickly took a four-point lead after Marco Bellineli went to the line and Trevor Ariza drained a three created by Chris Paul penetration, but Chris Bosh – wide open when the defense sucked into to stop James – kept the game within reach with a three of his own.

A couple free throws later and the HEAT were down three with 7.2 seconds to play on a night when they shot 42 percent from the field and 24 percent from downtown. Down three after Chris Paul – very reminiscent of the freedom Rajon Rondo was allowed – created chaos for Miami’s rotations by slicing into the middle (19 assists) and Emeka Okafor (26 points, 13 rebounds on 12-of-13 shooting) had one of his best offensive games since being drafted.

“They came out with a lot of energy,” Dwyane Wade said. “They jumped on us and that caused us to play from behind the whole game. That’s not the game we want to play.”

Down just three with the offense looking discombobulated as the Hornets used Boston’s defensive strategy, creating a rotating field around the paint that collapsed whenever James or Wade put the ball on the floor, forcing Miami into jumpers.

And they were finally going to answer the obsessive question nobody could let go of once the team was put together this summer: who was taking the last shot?

Turns out, the answer was a perfect reflection of the team’s core values.

With seemingly every player setting some sort of screen or faking a screen, the ball wound up in the hands of Dwyane Wade at the top of the key. Wade up faked the three, drew the defender and passed to his left to Eddie House, he of one of the quickest shot releases in the league.

House missed a good look, but the answer to the question, for tonight at least, was simple: whoever is open.

One streak down, one steady

The HEAT won the third quarter, 23-22, keeping their season-long streak of winning that period alive. But it was the first time in the first five games that the team allowed 20 points in the third, not to mention an overall offensive efficiency of 104.3 points per 100 possessions.

Ball movement

While many will point out Okafor’s effectiveness on the glass and the Hornet’s six-rebound advantage over the HEAT, New Orleans won the game because of all the easy looks Paul created.

The HEAT did a fine job sliding over to Paul after he broke down the initial line of defense, as he does to every team, limiting him to three field-goal attempts within 10 feet of the rim. But the most important defender in most any defense, the secondary help, seemed a step slow Friday, as the Hornets made 21 field goals within ten feet of the rim, 13 of them assisted, with 11 of the assists coming from Paul.

“We have to give him credit,” Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what you’re dealing with. With great players, you’re going to get over a handful of possessions, where he just breaks you down. Even when we’re prepared, it will be unscripted.

“With his creativity, quickness, and ball handling, that’s what happens: it will break you down and you simply have to make plays.”

No recovery time

The HEAT now stand at 4-2 and return home Saturday night to play the New Jersey Nets for the second time this season. Miami beat the Nets by 23 last Sunday.