PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference first round; Heat lead 2-1.
Baron Davis already looks like he’s been through one.
The hobbled point guard will likely have to continue to take punishment and dish it out if the Hornets are to have any chance of evening this first-round series at two games apiece.
Without Davis on the floor to create offense, New Orleans would seem to have little chance of winning the series. He’s been noticeably hampered by a sprained left ankle, but fought through it Saturday to lead the Hornets to a 77-71 victory, cutting Miami’s lead in the series to 2-1.
“Obviously in Game 1 he was playing on a leg, and (Saturday) he was playing on a leg-and-a-half so we’re making progress,” Hornets coach Tim Floyd said.
Davis scored a team-high 21 points in Game 3 as he made eight shots from the field—one more than he had in the first two games combined. However, the All-Star guard missed much of Sunday’s practice due to the ankle injury, as well as pain in his left knee, back and elbow.
“You’re not going to see too much explosion out of me,” Davis said. “I just have to find different ways and angles to the basket because I can’t jump over anybody right now.”
That became apparent Saturday as he looked almost reckless despite the injury. He banged his elbow when he slammed into Miami’s Lamar Odom, but it was Odom who missed part of the fourth quarter to get stitches around his eye. Also in Game 3, the Heat’s Caron Butler hurt himself while scrambling with Davis for a loose ball, causing Butler to miss practice Sunday with a sore Achilles’ tendon.
While the rest of the Hornets all but acknowledge they have little hope of advancing without Davis, they are concerned their floor leader could expose himself too much with his relentless play in an increasingly physical series.
The Heat know the Hornets’ biggest threat is still Davis, who often is limping around on defense but has sudden bursts of energy at the offensive end.
“He limps and then dunks the ball,” Odom said. “He’s tough. He’s very deceptive. You look at him, and you think, ‘That’s not a guy that’s quick. That’s not a guy that can go through you. Or over you.’ And he can do both.”
New Orleans is the bigger, more physical team in this series, but after a hard-fought Game 3, Miami sounds as if it is ready to go toe-to-toe with its older counterpart.
“We’re not losing without a fight,” Odom said. “Every time it’s going to come down to the wire and be a close game. It’s going to be a schoolyard scrap.”
The younger Heat, however, don’t want to get caught up in a halfcourt battle. Their success often lies in the transition game, and they had just eight fast-break points Saturday after outscoring the Hornets 36-10 in that category through the first two games in Miami.
“We were walking the ball up the court a lot instead of just running,” said Butler, who had 24 points and 15 rebounds. “At home, we feed off our crowd energy. We’ve just got to feed off ourselves, 15 guys in this room.”
Wade, who averaged a team-high 17.5 points in Games 1 and 2, went 1-of-8 from the field for two points.
Wade and Odom, who shot 5-for-18, combined for 13 of the Heat’s 17 turnovers as the team was held to its lowest point total in 2 1/2 months.
Three days earlier in Miami’s 93-63 win, New Orleans was limited to the second-lowest total in the playoffs since the shot clock was introduced in 1954.
Game 5 will be Friday in Miami.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Heat - 4th seed. Hornets - 5th seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Heat - Butler, 18.0 ppg; Butler and Grant, 9.7 rpg; Odom and Wade, 3.7 apg. Hornets - Davis, 17 ppg and 5.3 apg; Brown and Magloire, 10.0 rpg.