Sunday was the highest of highs for the Miami Heat and the lowest of lows for the New Orleans Hornets thus far in this compressed season.
Trying to avoid a letdown, the Heat seek to continue their winning ways Monday night when it hosts a Hornets squad going for only its third win in 19 games.
Miami (15-5), which opened its season with a victory at Dallas in a rematch of the 2011 finals it lost in six games, appears to have rediscovered the form from its 8-1 start. The Heat grinded out a 97-93 victory - their fourth straight - Sunday over Chicago in the first game between the teams since Miami won the Eastern Conference finals in five games last spring.
LeBron James had 35 points and 11 rebounds while Chris Bosh chipped in 24 and 12, respectively, to help offset a poor shooting night by Dwyane Wade, who missed 12 of 16 attempts from the floor but finished with 15 points and seven assists.
"The ball was on our side this time,'' said James, who nearly cost his team the win by missing two free throws with 18 seconds left after Bulls guard and 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose did the same five seconds before that.
James, who took on the added responsibility of guarding Rose down the stretch, notched his third straight 30-point game and 11th in 19 contests in 2011-12. He has been more aggressively driving to the basket all season, shooting 54.7 percent while averaging 29.5 points.
In his first 19 games getting used to playing with Bosh and Wade in 2010-11, James averaged 23.4 points on 44.8 percent shooting but also had attempted more than twice as many 3-pointers (63) as he has this season (30). James has averaged 24.4 points in 18 lifetime games versus New Orleans, but had only 20 in each contest against the Hornets last season.
That New Orleans team, however, bears little resemblance to the current squad, which was completely transformed by the preseason trade of Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers and free agent departure of David West to Indiana. The Hornets (4-16) were thwarted in a bid for back-to-back wins Sunday, falling 94-72 at home to Atlanta on Sunday. They shot 37.5 percent while scoring a season low.
"It's certainly one of those games you have to flush the toilet on and get ready for the next one, but I was really disappointed in our effort, especially at home with a day in between games,'' Hornets coach Monty Williams said.''
Jarrett Jack has averaged 16.5 points and 7.3 assists while emerging as the team's top offensive option with Eric Gordon sidelined by a knee injury, but was held to 10 points and four assists Sunday.
Getting back in transition may be a concern for the Hornets, who have allowed a league-worst 18.3 fast-break points per game on the road. Miami, which had 14 such points in the win over Chicago, ranks among the NBA's best with an average of 17.4 fast-break points per game.
The home team won both meetings last season, with Miami's "Big 3" combining for 75 points in a 96-84 victory Dec. 13, 2010.
The Hornets have won eight of the last 11 overall matchups in this series.