Two days after holding the best record in the East and third best in the league, the Miami Heat have dropped two straight games against short-handed, fellow division rivals. The first loss came at home on Monday against the Washington Wizards who were without big men, Marcin Gortat and Nene Hilario. Tonight, it was the Al Jefferson-less Charlotte Hornets.
Despite being without their starting center, Charlotte played like a much more unified team. Behind Nicolas Batum's six first quarter assists, six different players scored the ball in the period to give the Hornets a 27-17 lead after one. Miami played sloppy, committing six turnovers and looking like the team destined to lose from there.
The Hornets used a 12-0 run in the second to gain ground and discourage the Heat as much as possible. Marvin Williams hit a few outside shots while Kemba Walker hit a few floaters on the offensive side. Miami had some good looks but couldn't knock anything down, an outcome of the Hornet's smooth defense. Unable to get into a rhythm, the Heat fell behind by 20 at half-time. Miami only registered 36 points at the break, their second-lowest-scoring half of the season. The lowest being a 32 point half against the Philadelphia Sixers, the only difference would be the outcomes of those games as the Heat couldn't get back in to this one.
A comeback would be attempted but with the Hornets hitting three triples to open the second-half, the only thing that would be hoped for was a closer margin of loss. Miami brought it to as close as 15 but Charlotte punched the Heat everywhere, discouraging them from getting back in the game. No offense would be produced as the Heat went on a horrendous scoring drought towards the end of the quarter; Miami made no field goals, with the exception of a Justise Winslow jump shot, in the last 6:56 of the quarter. It was the third straight quarter the Heat couldn't score 20 points in as they trailed the Hornets 80-54 after three.
The rest of the game would be left in the bench player's hands. The only notable piece of the last quarter was the 10th point Batum picked up to get his triple-double. Tyler Johnson tried to put the team on his back during garbage time to try to pull off some miracle but the backup guards' 20 collective points were useless as the Heat lost to the Hornets 99-81.
No one on the Heat could find their game tonight as the team shot just 38.7% from the field and 28.6% from downtown. Apart from Johnson's 20, Dwyane Wade and Gerald Green had 11 points a piece. Chris Bosh had just seven points and Goran Dragic was held to five, all unacceptable performances for the Heat.
The Hornets, on the other hand, shot just below 50% from the field and above 40% with the three ball. Batum led Charlotte with 10 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds. Williams and Walker both did their parts with 18 points each as well. Every single player on the Hornets tonight scored. It was a complete team effort for the home team as the Hornets had a whopping 27 assists, 10 more than the Heat.
Miami has fallen to 2-4 on the road with losses against all Eastern Conference foes they could be meeting in the playoffs. They've lost to the Cavs, Pacers, Pistons and now, Hornets. Their only two road wins coming against below-500 teams, Minnesota and New York. The Heat will have their work cut for them as they prepare for more small-ball lineups.
The Celtics, Wizards and Hornets have all successfully cut the Heat in pieces with this strategy. It's taken Hassan Whiteside, who had six of Miami's 17 turnovers, out of games and left the Heat with poor options to counter with.
They'll have a tough road match up with Pacers in Indiana on Friday at 7 P.M.