Nicolas Batum earned his fifth career triple-double, as the Charlotte Hornets defeated Miami Heat 99-81 to improve to 13-8 and first in Southeast Division. Batum finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. It was his first triple-double with the Hornets. Kemba Walker and Marvin Williams led all scorers with 18 points each, while Jeremy Lamb added 10 points off the bench.
The Hornets started 1-5 from the field, but then heated up thanks to consecutive 3-pointers by Batum and Williams. The team was sharing the ball early, scoring their first five field goals on five assists. Batum led the way, totaling six assists in the first quarter. The defense tightened up, and the Hornets led by 10 at the end of the quarter.
The second unit kept the offensive pace in the second quarter, with multiple players finding open shots thanks to great ball movement by the Hornets. The Heat would chip away at the lead, but then the Hornets would go on a run, extending the lead out to 20 thanks to a 20-6 run. The 20 point lead would hold, with the Hornets shooting 51.1 percent from the field.
Defense remained the staple in the 2nd half, with the Hornets extending their lead to 26 after holding the Hornets to just 17 points in the third. Batum earned his triple-double off a nice alley-oop pass from Jeremy Lin.
The Heat accepted the outcome fairly early into the fourth quarter, with the benches playing out the last six minutes or so of the game. The Heat would cut into the lead, but solid efforts from Troy Daniels, Tyler Hansbrough, and Aaron Harrison extended the lead back out.
It was another convincing win for the Hornets, who now have won eight of their last ten games. While the game was competitive in the early parts of the game, the Hornets executed well on offense, creating high percentage shots both at the rim and behind the arc. Add in a strong defensive effort, and the Heat found themselves down in double figures by the end of the 1st quarter. Charlotte continued to clamp down defensively, which helped them build upon their lead, and the defensive effort was consistent, with the Hornets holding the Heat to under 20 points in the first three quarters.
Tonight's win showed just how much the Hornets have transformed since the start of the season. The Hornets lost their opening game to Miami, with the Heat looking like the dominant team and front-runner for the division in that game. Tonight was just the opposite. The execution on both sides of the ball was fantastic, drawing praise from national NBA media:
I know the Heat are bad on the road, but good Lord the Hornets are seriously well coached and execute so well.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 10, 2015
It's amazing how things can turn around in the course of a year. The Hornets were 6-15 through 21 games last season, still trying to recover from a 10 game losing streak. They're now 13-8, first in the Southeast, and second in the Eastern Conference. Good things are happening.