Miami’s first trip to the postseason in two years proved to be successful as the HEAT knocked off the Charlotte Hornets 123-91 on Sunday afternoon to take a 1-0 series lead.
The HEAT jumped out to a 41-22 lead after the first quarter behind the work of Luol Deng, who scored 14 points. Miami shot 68 percent from the field, while the Hornets struggled shooting as they converted on just 35 percent of their shots in the opening period.
Both the Hornets and HEAT came into tonight’s game as two of the hotter teams in the league. The Hornets were 25-9 since February 1 (third-best in the league), while the HEAT were 21-13 (ninth-best).
While the Hornets came into the game as the hotter team, it was the HEAT that looked like the more experienced team from start to finish.
During the regular season, Charlotte was one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the league, but were outrebounded 42-28 during the game. The HEAT were able to pull down 14 offensive rebounds in the game.
Charlotte boasted one of the better second units in the league, receiving big contributions throughout the season from Jeremy Lin, Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lamb, Courtney Lee and Spencer Hawes.
On Sunday, the bench only received significant contributions from Jefferson (13 points) and Lin (nine points). Charlotte was led with 24 points from Nicolas Batum and 19 points from Kemba Walker.
A big question coming into the game was how Hassan Whiteside would perform in his first playoff game. The Hornets limited Whiteside to less than 10 points in two of the four outings during the regular season, but Whiteside eliminated any doubt about how he’d perform in the playoffs as he scored 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
Deng would prove to be the HEAT’s top scorer after dropping 31 points on 11-of-13 shooting from the floor. He was also able to convert 4-of-6 from three-point range as well.
Perhaps the most troubling sign for the Hornets was the lack of energy. There were times throughout the game that it just looked like the HEAT were playing with more energy and hustle than the Hornets. After giving up 41 points in the first quarter, it looked like they were shaken and unable to recover.
Charlotte has now lost nine consecutive playoff games as they were swept in 2010 by the Orlando Magic, and were also swept by the HEAT two years ago during their last appearance in the postseason.
The two teams will now turn to Game 2 on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Hornets head coach Steve Clifford and the rest of his staff will be tasked with developing a different game plan to give his team better looks. Ultimately, it will be on the players to come out with better energy and try to steal a game in Miami.
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