Leave it to the New Orleans Hornets to give the Miami Heat the gauge they need to estimate where their defense currently stands.
After a 32-point first quarter for the Hornets, it appeared the Heat had learned little from their defensive lapses against the likes of Cleveland, Washington and New York. Once the second quarter came, however, the Heat became reminiscent of the Heat team that has ranked in the top five in points allowed per game over the past two seasons.
Miami allowed 15 points in the second quarter, blowing the doors off a Hornets team playing without Eric Gordon and number one pick Anthony Davis. The Heat dropped 33 points in the same quarter, including a few highlight dunks courtesy of LeBron James, leading to a 106-90 win that broke a two-game losing streak. James finished with a relatively easy 24 points on 16 shots, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals in 36 minutes.
Dwyane Wade led the way in scoring with 26 points. It’s no coincidence that this team is at its best and winning games when Wade is producing, and losing games when Wade plays how he did against the Knicks where he became an afterthought on both ends of the floor. Against the Hornets, Wade made his first four shots and shot 9-of-12 via classic drives and an improved jumper.
Chris Bosh was the only member of the Big Three who didn’t look like themselves. He struggled to keep Robin Lopez away from the rim and his offense wasn’t much better. In the span of two possessions, Bosh missed three dunks. The first was a missed poster that would have brought the American Airlines Arena down and the next two were missed within seconds as both of Bosh’s power punches rimmed out.
Following another sluggish quarter that featured Ryan Anderson getting whatever he pleased from the perimeter and Robin Lopez abusing the Heat in the paint, coach Spoelstra made the decision to give Joel Anthony some significant minutes in the second. Naturally, the Hornets were stymied as they began to cough up the ball–thanks to Anthony’s length disrupting the pick-and-roll–and found open shots more difficult to come by because of the Heat’s activity on that end of the floor.
Don’t look now, but Joel may just be playing himself into a starting role. The small-ball lineup clearly isn’t yielding results on the defensive end and the Heat are clearly a better team on defense when Anthony is on the floor.
Shane Battier also made his defensive influence felt, having a game-high plus/minus of +22 in his second consecutive game coming off the bench since returning from a high ankle injury he suffered last week. He’d knock down two three-pointers in the closing minutes, representing the daggers that put away a persistent Hornets team that cut Miami’s lead down to seven.
Battier and Ray Allen both dropped in 11 points off the bench, combining to shoot 5-of-7 from beyond the arc.
The Hornets were led by Ryan Anderson’s 24, as well as his 4-of-6 shooting from deep. The Heat’s defense along the perimeter still looked suspect, allowing the Hornets to convert 8-of-18 from deep. Still, there’s not much more you can ask for when the same Heat defense just allowed the Knicks without Carmelo Anthony to convert 18-of-44 from beyond the arc.
For the most part, however, the Heat’s defense looked solid even if it was against a depleted Hornets team. New Orleans shot 45 percent from the field and only got to the line for 13 free throws. The key in this contest was the Hornets coughing up the ball 17 times, 11 alone coming from the guards Grievis Vasquez, Roger Mason and Brian Roberts.
Miami had 16 turnovers, but the Hornets don’t exactly have the capacity to have turnovers turn into plays like this:
The Heat will welcome the Atlanta Hawks on Monday. Miami won the first meeting in Atlanta 95-89 in early November.