The Charlotte Hornets are past the point where they can have a good loss. This is a team with playoff aspirations, and everybody should know that these early games can become very important come April when playoff spots are decided by only a few games. That said, tonight's loss to the Miami Heat may not be good, but it was at least productive.
The Hornets reached a point last year where their losses had a formula. They played really good defense, and if they could get enough stops then they would win thanks to that. The offense was a complete train wreck with the entire strategy being designed around Al Jefferson post ups, and Kemba Walker dribbling around for half of the shot clock. It was a mess. So much so that Charlotte promised fans a new, and better, offense coming into this season. Tonight, they kinda delivered.
The beginning of the game was a little familiar with a steady diet of Big Al post ups. However, what was different from last year was Jefferson himself. He held the ball less, and was very quick in his movements against a young Hassan Whiteside. The result? 17 first quarter points for Jefferson, and Charlotte finding themselves right in it with Miami.
As the game went on Charlotte didn't keep up with the Jefferson post up moves, but instead got their new offense rolling. A lot of pick and roll action, use of screens, and dribble hand offs intended to get players more space. Kemba Walker in particular benefited from this a couple times when that space created open lanes on the pick and roll game.The benefits of a new offense were seen immediately with Charlotte grabbing a lead, and playing very well for most of the first half. Unfortunately, that didn't last long due to old struggles rearing their head once again.
The biggest change for Charlotte from last year is the addition of 3-point shooting to their offense. Last year, the Hornets were so bad at shooting from deep that they decided to just not attempt them. This year, they're firing up more than they ever have in the Steve Clifford era, but that doesn't really matter if they still miss the shots. Charlotte went 2-for-13 from deep in the first half, and Miami took the lead back.
The second half wasn't much prettier with the Heat asserting their dominance, experience, and talent over the Hornets. They just constantly out executed them on the offensive end while playing stout defense on the other end. It was at this point that Charlotte's lack of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was most noticeable. As the offense hit a bump, and stagnated, the Hornets were unable to get the stops to make up for it. There were just so many clean looks Miami got, and moments where the defense didn't recover in time, that made me say to myself "MKG would have gotten to that one".
Whatever Miami schemed up for the third quarter it worked extremely well, because Charlotte's stagnant offense carried all the way into the early fourth. It wasn't the same as last year, although the lack of off ball movement was troubling, but instead a situation where the Hornets just weren't sure how to counter what they were facing. Perhaps a matchup issue?
Whatever the problem was, Charlotte figured it out late and found a good counter. The closing lineup the Hornets ran with was Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lin Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, and Cody Zeller. They were fast, put the Hornets back into the game, and matched up well again Chris Bosh at center. This lineup erased the double digit lead, and actually managed to get it down to five points at first. At the end of the day though it wasn't enough, and Miami's execution got the better of them.
Charlotte played really well for two and a half quarters, and really bad during the rest of the game. They're obviously still working out some kinks in the offense, and Miami wasn't exactly an easy first test. As far as losses go this one could have been worse, and there were a lot of good moments that came out of it. Most importantly though, Charlotte didn't rely too much on posting up Al Jefferson, and letting guards dribble around all day. They had a system, and they tried to get it working. Miami's defense was just better this time. Next time, when Charlotte has some more experience together, it might be different.