Udonis Haslem’s message to Heat fans before Friday night’s home opener was pretty simple.
“Continue to support us,” the 14-year veteran told the Heat’s 288th consecutive sellout crowd at AmericanAirlines Arena. “We’re going to play hard every night and continue to fight for you.”
By the time the Heat was done blowing a 19-point third quarter lead while Hassan Whiteside sat on the bench with four fouls, the only thing fans wanted to do was boo and chant “We Want Haslem!”
As Haslem promised, the Heat kept fighting Friday night. But it never got the lead back.
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Led by Kemba Walker’s 24 points and a 51-point effort from their bench, the Hornets, who lost a tough, seven-game first round playoff series to Dwyane Wade and the Heat six months ago, got a bit of revenge on Miami with a 97-91 come-from-behind victory.
“Mentally, everybody kind of checked out a little bit,” said Justise Winslow, who finished with 10 points (4-of-14 shooting), six rebounds, five assists and four turnovers in 32 minutes. “We just stopped getting stops.”
“We’re going to get frustrated. We’re going to be tested mentally. We just have to do a better job of bouncing back whether it’s now or in the playoffs or in February.”
Whiteside led Miami (1-1) with 20 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks in 27 foul-plagued minutes. But he was on the bench for most of the Hornets’ rally.
After hitting a floater to extend the Heat’s lead to 65-46 with 9:40 to play in the third quarter, the Heat’s $98 million center picked up his fourth foul with 7:40 to go in the period trying to stop Cody Zeller from getting to the basket. Whiteside didn’t return until after Ramon Sessions’ floater gave Charlotte its first lead of the game at 81-79 with 8:51 to play in the game.
Why did Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wait so long to put Whiteside back into the game?
“I just wanted to make sure he could finish the game,” Spoelstra said. “In hindsight, there’s a lot of decisions you can go back on.”
Whiteside, who also received four stitches on his left elbow after Zeller brought him down hard in a tussle for the basketball in the first half, said it was tough to watch from the bench.
“I can’t control my minutes,” he said. “That’s Coach Spo. I really can just cheer from the sideline. That’s pretty much what I tried to do — keep my energy up from the bench.”
The Heat, which scored 74 points in the paint in Wednesday night’s impressive, season-opening win at Orlando, was held to 28 paint points Friday and turned it over 20 times leading to 22 Hornets points in a sloppy performance overall.
Until its third quarter meltdown, the second half got off to the same start as it did in Wednesday’s win at Orlando with the Heat imposing its will and extending an 11-point halftime lead to 19 points. Although Miami wasn’t scoring in the paint like it did Wednesday, the Heat made eight of its first 17 three-point attempts.
Dion Waiters opened the third quarter with a three-pointer followed by a Whiteside dunk and jump hook. It all seemed like it was going to end well.
But it didn’t. The Heat finished 14-of-34 from beyond the arc (41.2%), but shot 37.2 percent overall. Most importantly, players said, they stopped doing what was so successful in Wednesday’s win over the Magic.
“We stopped doing what got us the lead – sharing the ball,” said Waiters, who led the Heat with 16 shot attempts, but made only five of them, finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three turnovers in 34 minutes.
“That’s what happens when you play against a team like that, a playoff team. They stayed with it. They made runs. And we didn’t get stops when we needed them.”
Charlotte shot 38 percent and was only 7-of-22 from three-point range, but scored 46 points in the paint. Most of that came when Whiteside was on the bench.
“He’s the strength of their defense,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “With him out of the game we were able to get some good high pick-and-rolls with Ramon [Sessions].”
▪ Derrick Williams, who started five preseason games for the Heat at power forward, still has not played a minute in the regular season. Spoelstra has stayed with the same nine-man rotation in both games.
Before Friday’s game, Spoelstra said he did kept Williams out of the opener to “keep the rotation tight” and it was “not an indictment” on how Williams was playing.
Williams, though, said he was “a little surprised” he didn’t play in the opener.
“I can’t really be mad about the fact I didn’t play,” Williams said. “I’ve just got to stay ready, that’s it. There’s nothing I can do. This league is a long season. We’ve still got 81 more games, man. So, I definitely did want to play. But at the same time I can’t control everything. You can control what you can control.”
▪ Rookie Rodney McGruder played 20 minutes off the bench and made his first three three-point attempts in the first half. He didn’t score after the break.
▪ Backup center Willie Reed had seven points and three rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench. But he was upset with his performance when he was called on to replace Whiteside when he was in foul trouble in the third quarter.
“It was tough,” Reed said. “But that’s just where I have to come in and bring energy. I didn’t do a good job of that tonight. I know I’m going to sit back and watch the film and try to get better. I’ve got to figure out how to no let that happen again.”