On paper, it looked like a favorable matchup for the Miami Heat. The retooled Charlotte Hornets had been struggling offensively and were ranked near the bottom of the league in many categories. Miami had been scoring smoothly through three wins and were averaging over 100 points per game. Both teams were playing the second games of back-to-back sets.
Games ain't played on paper, though.
The Heat simply couldn't score at crucial moments in the game, a trend that started early. After 8 minutes of play, Miami had only scored 9 total points and finished with only 17 points in the 1st quarter. Nor could they contain a suddenly-hot Hornets team that got key contributions from Al Jefferson (28 points, 10 rebounds) and Kemba Walker (18 points, including 2-of-2 from long range). Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decided to have Shawne Williams guard Jefferson to start the game, presumably to keep Chris Bosh from getting in foul trouble. "Big Al" had no problem dominating Williams - or Chris Bosh, Justin Hamilton, or anyone else wearing a Heat jersey.
The Hornets Cody Zeller was a big boost as well, chipping in with 13 points and 8 rebounds. But his hustle was a sharp contrast to a listless Miami team that simply couldn't muster much energy for much of the first half. Norris Cole struggled again, scoring 2 points (on 1-of-6 shooting) in 22 minutes of play.
The game was an odd and inefficient one for both teams. Miami was shaky at first and yet closed the half only down 2 points. The Hornets blew open the game in the 3rd quarter and was up 15 with 9 minutes left to play. Suddenly, the Heat came alive and started forcing Charlotte into making simple mistakes. Miami was able to capitalize on them with Wade, Bosh (23 points) and rookie Shabazz Napier (9 points) leading the charge on a 21-9 run and closing the gap to 3.
There was a sense that this Hornets team would crumble as they have so far this season but, instead, Miami would only score 4 points in the final 2 minutes of play. Turnovers, missed shots and senseless fouls marked the end of the game and Miami could only watch as Charlotte pulled out a victory.
The Heat missed a ridiculous number of shots at the rim. Some were of the wild, Chalmers-esque variety but others - easy, uncontested layups - just rimmed out. The shots that Bosh had been hitting from the perimeter in the first 3 games didn't fall. And no other Heat player scored in double digits. More disturbing is Cole's slump - after going scoreless against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, he didn't bounce back as expected. With Spoelstra showing incredible faith in Napier by keeping him in the game during the critical 4th quarter comeback, you have to wonder if a lineup change may be in order.
The Heat were without the services of Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen and Danny Granger yet again. Hamilton (6 points) and Josh McRoberts (just 2 points, off an electrifying dunk) were used off the bench.
Aside from the team-wide shooting struggles (39 percent from the field including a horrific 18 percent from 3-point range), the Heat were victimized on the boards. Charlotte won the rebound battle 49-36 but the numbers don't tell the full story. A lot of those came during key possessions and the Hornets' 13 offensive rebounds led to numerous second-chance field goals. Everyone's favorite former Pacer, Lance Stephenson (changed with a Flagrant Foul on Chalmers, by the way) wasn't scoring much but his rebounding and energy was a catalyst for a Hornets team that hasn't scored with ease this season.
The Heat (now 3-2) are off until Saturday, where they'll host the young, exciting Minnesota Timberwolves at AmericanAirlines Arena.