PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference first round; Heat lead 2-0.
Though the Miami Heat worked their way back from an 0-7 start to earn home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, many wondered if they could have any success in the playoffs due to a lack of experience.
Miami’s play in the first two games of its first-round series with the New Orleans Hornets, however, has gone a long way to putting an end to those doubts.
The Heat look to take a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven series with the Hornets when the teams meet at New Orleans Arena.
Miami lost its first seven games of the season and was still 11 games below .500 in early March. But the Heat finished by winning 17 of their final 21 games, moving from out of the playoff picture all the way to fourth place in the East.
Miami entered the postseason as a young team with few players that had much playoff experience. Of the 12 players on the Heat’s postseason roster, half had never appeared in the playoffs, including starters Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Dwyane Wade.
Those three players, however, have led the way as Miami has won the first two games of the series at home.
Wade, who hit a 7-foot jumper with 1.3 seconds left to beat the Hornets 81-79 in Game 1, leads the team in scoring with 17.5 points a game while Odom and Butler are averaging 15 apiece.
The trio combined for 45 points as the Heat routed the Hornets 93-63 on Wednesday to take a 2-0 series lead.
The Hornets’ point total tied for the second-lowest in the playoffs since the shot clock was introduced in 1954. They shot 24.4 percent and came within one basket of breaking the record for playoff shooting futility—23.3 percent, set by Golden State in 1973.
Miami has won 19 of 23—including 14 in a row at home—while New Orleans has lost 19 of its last 30 games. Still, Miami coach Stan Van Gundy knows this series is far from over.
New Orleans is “a veteran team with a lot of pride,” Van Gundy said. “You get teams like that with their backs against the wall, you almost always get their best performance.”
While Miami has played outstanding at home, its road record was a paltry 13-28 this season.
“We haven’t quite risen to the level of being able to win consistently on the road,” said Van Gundy, whose Heat team went 1-1 in New Orleans during the regular season. “We haven’t proven that yet. So we need to get better.”
New Orleans needs to get better on the offensive end.
The Hornets are averaging 71 points—21 below their season average—in this series. New Orleans’ high-scoring quarter so far has been 22 points.
“We’ll go home. We’ll hit some shots. We’ll be all right,” said New Orleans guard Baron Davis, who is shooting 24 percent (7-for-29) in the series while playing with a sprained left ankle.
Hornets coach Tim Floyd, the former Chicago coach whose comeback season could be his last if New Orleans doesn’t advance deep into the playoffs, said his players should not need any more motivation than the shame of a 30-point playoff loss.
“We were a team that got embarrassed and these guys are professional athletes, and you respond to that embarrassment if you’ve got an ounce of pride in you at all,” Floyd said.
Veteran guard David Wesley said he was disgusted with the Hornets’ recent play but showed no sign of panic Thursday, stressing it’s not uncommon for a visiting team to drop the first two games of a best-of-seven playoff series.
“When it’s all said and done, they held serve,” Wesley said. “That’s the way it goes in the playoffs. Now our job is to do the same thing and maybe a little embarrassment will help us to come back and play just a little bit better.”
Game 4 is Tuesday in New Orleans with Game 5, if necessary, next Friday at Miami.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Heat - 4th seed. Hornets - 5th seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Heat - Wade, 17.5 ppg and 5.5 apg; Grant, 9 rpg. Hornets - Davis, 15 ppg and 5.5 apg; Magloire, 10.5 rpg.