As dominant as Luol Deng’s 31-point performance was Sunday in Miami’s 123-91 trouncing of Charlotte, the Hornets say they’ll make the necessary adjustments Wednesday to slow the former Duke star in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference series.
Deng, a 12-year NBA veteran, enjoyed his highest-scoring game since joining the Heat two seasons ago.
He was defended primarily by Charlotte forward Marvin Williams. But at shoot-around Monday on the University of Miami campus, Williams didn’t seem too concerned with Deng’s big night.
“I feel like a lot of things that he scored, he got them on blown coverages,” Williams said. “It wasn’t like we lined anybody up and just gave anybody 31. And that’s no disrespect to him by any means. He’s a very good player.
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“But I feel a lot of things he got were just blown coverages and things that we have to clean up.”
Williams gave his due respect to Deng, but the message was clear: Williams and the Hornets believe their mistakes led to Deng’s success .
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he doesn’t expect that level of scoring from Deng to be a theme this series.
“He wants to help a team, so that will be different things, different nights,” Spoelstra said after the game. “He is emotionally stable enough to understand that it doesn’t have to be four 3s, 31 points. It might be a charge, 12 rebounds, a tough defensive assignment and filling the gaps offensively. But mature, veteran players understand this.”
Deng’s role over time has changed, going from a forward who would cut to the basket regularly to score to more of a spot-up role. Since Chris Bosh has been sidelined with an illness, Deng has been a much more reliable scorer.
Before the All-Star break in Febuary, Deng was averaging 10.6 points per game and 4.7 rebounds. Since then, he’s averaging 15.2 points and 8.1 rebounds.
Charlotte was effective in stopping some of Deng’s cuts coming from the weak side on pick-and-rolls. But where the Hornets failed was guarding him on the perimeter. He regularly ran down the floor and found a corner for jump shots. As the Heat drained the shot clock with some of its best passing of the season, Charlotte’s defensive rotations faltered and sometimes left Deng wide open.
“Not to say he cannot score, because he’s a very, very good player. I don’t necessarily feel like Luol is going to be the guy to go in there and score 31 on every single night of the series,” Williams said.
“Again, no disrespect to him by any means. I just don’t feel like that’s how their offense is played. He had a huge night last night, and hopefully we can limit those throughout the series.”
Williams, like most of the Hornets not named Nic Batum on Sunday, struggled offensively. He went 1 for 7 from the field for two points and three rebounds.
That’s a stark contrast from his average of 11.7 points and 6.4 rebounds this season. After notching a career-high 152 3-pointers this season, Williams missed his only two attempts Sunday.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford said after the game that if Deng and center Hassan Whiteside combine for 52 points a game as they did Sunday, it’ll “be hard for us to win.”
But Williams said he’s confident the Hornets’ defense will improve in Game 2 and that his shot will return to form.
“The shots I took (Sunday) night are the shots I’ve been taking all year,” he said. “I would never let a night like 1 for 7 bother me. Not even in the least bit.
“If I had an opportunity to shoot more, I would have shot more. I’ll keep shooting the same shots that I’ve been shooting all year, and I’ll be better on Wednesday.”