Will the Miami Heat ever cool down?
That is the question the Charlotte Hornets hope will be answered affirmatively Saturday in Game 3 of the teams’ playoff series, because Miami’s offense vs. Charlotte’s defense in the first two games has been an utter rout.
The Heat won the second game of the series 115-103 Wednesday night in Miami.
“If we’re going to get 103 points, we’ve got to win,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said.
Down 0-2, the Hornets have fallen into a deep well with slippery walls. A climb all the way out is unlikely and probably will have to be made without Nic Batum, who was ruled out for Game 3. Batum re-injured his leg Wednesday, and the replay made everyone cringe.
But if there is any climb to be made, it has to start with defense. Any Hornets fan moaning that Charlotte went 1-for-16 on 3-point attempts Wednesday is telling the truth but missing the larger point.
Charlotte has scored efficiently enough to win. What the Hornets haven’t done all week is stop a Miami team scoring at such a torrid pace that even LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade weren’t able to sustain these kinds of numbers in the days of the Big Three.
With only Wade remaining from that trio for this series, Miami has shot a shade over 57 percent in both games. And get this – the Heat is scoring at a clip of 1.32 points per possession in this series.
Charlotte has lost 12 playoff games in a row as a franchise, tying for the second-longest streak in NBA history. If the Hornets lose Game 3 and 4, too, they will hold this dubious record on their own.
How good is that? Well, Golden State led the NBA this season in that category, at 1.13. Miami has been “Warriors East,” bombing in shots from 3-point range (53 percent), dunking them from in close or watching Wade create in the paint.
If you’re curious about Charlotte’s points per possession, the Hornets were at 1.05 during the regular season. They are at 1.07 in two playoff games. Again, it’s not the offense.
“They made their shots,” Hornets center Al Jefferson said, “and we made our mistakes.”
Shots Hornets can live with
Perhaps the rims at Time Warner Cable Arena can be tightened before Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. tipoff. Something must change, though, or this series will be over Monday night after Game 4 in Charlotte.
Clifford ripped his team’s defense after Game 1 – a 123-91 Miami win – saying Charlotte got “manhandled” and that the defense was “terrible” and “disorganized.” After Game 2, though, the coach kind of shrugged his shoulders.
“Tonight,” Clifford said, “they made a lot of shots you could live with.”
The Hornets want Heat point guard Goran Dragic to shoot from 3-point range instead of driving the ball into the paint, where he is extremely dangerous. “If he’s going to shoot step-back jumpers,” Clifford said, “you can live with that.”
So Dragic shot three of those from 3-point range and buried all three.
Heat rookie Justise Winslow is a force driving to the rim, but Charlotte believes it can live with Winslow shooting from 18 feet. So Winslow kept swishing those jumpers Wednesday.
Two amazing quarters
The Heat has had two amazing quarters in these playoffs. Miami had 41 points in the first quarter of Game 1. That was crazy. Then it had 43 in the second quarter of Game 2, and that was even crazier, because Miami went 16-for-19 (84.2 percent).
“You watch these games and think something’s got to change,” Clifford said Wednesday, addressing a roomful of reporters. “But sometimes you just have to do the basic things better.”
The most points the Hornets have ever given up in a quarter in any playoff game was set Sunday at 41 points by Miami in Game 1. It was broken three days later, when the Heat scored 43 in the second quarter of Game 2.
That’s what the Hornets plan to do. Clifford is not a knee-jerk reaction kind of guy, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist isn’t walking through that door (well, actually, he walks through it every day and works out hard, but his shoulder injury won’t be healed until next season).
MKG would make a big difference. But to be fair to Miami, Bosh would, too, and he’s not playing.
The Hornets already start the best defensive team they can field – that’s part of the reason Jefferson is a reserve. I thought Courtney Lee did a decent job on Wade on Wednesday, and Wade still had 28 points and eight assists.
“He was unbelievable,” Clifford said of Wade.
Can it continue?
Look, the Heat is just playing better than Charlotte and is almost certainly going to win this series. Miami has taken a 2-0 lead in 14 postseason series, and it is 13-0 in the first 13. And historically, NBA teams leading 2-0 in a best-of-7 series win the series 94 percent of the time.
But it also stands to reason that the Miami Heat will turn into the Miami Ice at least once in the two games in Charlotte. That’s when the Hornets will have to spring to have any chance.
Because the Heat can’t shoot 57 percent every game.