A frustrating night for the Miami Heat ended with a 109-106 loss to the Charlotte Hornets that could make a major impact in the final playoff seedings.
Instead of the Heat coming through with a gritty fourth quarter comeback win at home, it was the Hornets who walked away with the hard-fought victory -- playing on the second night of a back-to-back -- thanks in large part to starters Kemba Walker (21 points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds) and Nicolas Batum, who struggled early with his shot and scored just two points on 1-8 shooting in the first half but came on strong with 17 points the rest of the way.
The Heat's loss to the Hornets, who have now won nine of their last 10 games, coupled with the Atlanta Hawks beating the Denver Nuggets drop Miami from third to sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Miami had come out swinging hammering the opponent in the paint (finishing with a 58-26 advantage) with Goran Dragic aggressive on offense. A 16-2 Heat run, including 12 straight points, sparked by Hassan Whiteside early in the second quarter produced a 13-point lead. Charlotte answered back with a 7-0 run but the play of Whiteside and Josh Richardson on both ends of the floor helped their team overcome Wade's struggles.
The Heat would build their lead to its biggest of the night at 45-30, but the Hornets would again answer back (after Richardson and Whiteside went to the bench with foul trouble) and go up 54-52 with a massive 24-7 run that swung the momentum of the game their way. Walker led the way with 16 points in the first half as Charlotte scored the last nine points in the quarter.
The third quarter featured improved play from the Heat, particularly Luol Deng and Dragic, that allowed them to briefly retake the lead at 61-60. Again, the Hornets absorbed the run and fought back to get their biggest lead of the night at the time with the score 76-68 after a 7-0 run with two minutes left in the third quarter.
The final quarter featured more back and forth between the evenly matched teams but it was too much Batum down the stretch despite the best efforts of the Heat rookies alongside Whiteside and Deng. Richardson stepped up his production again in the final quarter, but also missed three critical free throws. Despite an off night, coach Erik Spoelstra elected to put Wade back into the game during crunch time and he proceeded to attempt difficult shots, though he did feed Joe Johnson for a 3-pointer.
Miami had three opportunities to go for the tie with a 3-pointer but instead went with Wade driving to the basket twice for easy scores, after Marvin Williams had missed two free throws to breath new life into the Heat's chances of stealing the victory. Jeremy Lin, however, sank four free throws to maintain Charlotte's three-point lead.
With just a few seconds left on the clock and Richardson looking on from the bench despite his accuracy from long range, it was instead Wade (shooting 3-13 for the night) who was not only on the floor but taking the difficult 3-point attempt, despite shooting 7-37 for the season from that range and having last converted a 3-pointer on Dec. 16, 2015.
Miami next host LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night at 7:30pm.