Hornets coach Steve Clifford has always had a lot of respect for the job Erik Spoelstra has done over the years and paid him and the Heat another compliment before Thursday’s game at the Spectrum Center.
“I can’t think I’ve seen a team that plays with more effort than they do,” he said.
Unfortunately for the Heat, effort isn’t enough these days.
Aided by 17 Miami turnovers which led directly to 21 points, Southeast division-leading Charlotte erased a seven-point halftime deficit and handed the Heat it’s sixth straight road loss with a 91-82 victory.
“We don’t have an explanation for it right now,” Spoelstra said of the Heat’s turnovers. “They did step up their defense, but we just weren’t coherent, didn’t get organized and we had some sloppy turnovers and really paid the price for that.
“That’s not necessarily what they do either. They’re a compact, make you beat them over the top team. So when you’re getting that many turnovers that lead to 21 points, it’s tough to beat them in their building.”
Kemba Walker led the Hornets (19-14) with 22 points including a key three-pointer that extended the lead to 89-82 with 1:40 to play in regulation.
But there was plenty of ugly for the Heat (10-23) in this loss including an 0-for-9 shooting night from Justise Winslow and another flat performance from center Hassan Whiteside, who had eight points, 10 rebounds and four turnovers.
Point guard Goran Dragic returned and played through back soreness after sitting out Tuesday’s loss to Oklahoma City. But he struggled, finishing 2-of-11 from the field with five points and eight assists in 32 minutes.
“He did some good things particularly on the baseline,” Spoelstra said of Winslow, who finished with five rebounds, five assists and three turnovers in 29 minutes. “When he’s open, particularly in rhythm shooting 15, 16-footers, he’s had plenty of games that he makes you pay for those. He was being aggressive in the open court, had some post-ups. He just wasn’t able to get the ball down. But that’s the game and you still have to try to find a way to overcome some poor shooting nights.
“Goran probably shouldn’t have been out there. He just really wanted to be out there for his team and you could clearly see he wasn’t moving the way he normally does. He was probably at 50 percent, if that. But these guys are competing hard for each other. They don’t want to let each other down and it’s disappointing that we haven’t been able to pick up some wins.”
Coming off a 22-point performance Tuesday, Josh Richardson led the Heat with 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting and Tyler Johnson chimed in with 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists off the bench.
“I think it’s because my knee is feeling a lot better,” Richardson said of his recent hot streak of shooting. “It was feeling sore after a lot of games. I didn't feel like I could move like I wanted to. But I feel like I've been moving well since the last game.”
Miami took a 49-42 lead into the half after it closed the second quarter on a 16-4 run. Richardson got it going with a pair of three-pointers and then a beautiful floater in the lane before Johnson ended the half with a buzzer-beating three.
But Charlotte, which shot only 31.4 percent in the first half, went from down seven points at the third quarter to up seven points by the end of it. The Hornets opened the quarter on an 8-0 run and took advantage of six Heat turnovers in the period and turned it into 11 points.
Charlotte shot just 38.7 percent for the game and 5-of-26 from the three-point range, but grabbed 18 offensive rebounds and outscored the Heat 46-30 in the paint and 14-4 on second chance points.
“It started on defense,” said Nick Batum, who had 16 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists for the Hornets, who were playing on the second night of a back-to-back and in their third game in four nights. “We were tired for these past two games, but we were able to grind it out. It was a good win for us.”
COMING UP NEXT
Friday: Heat at Celtics
When/where: 7:30 p.m., TD Garden, Boston
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish)
Series: Celtics lead 67-44
Scouting report: Boston, which is playing in Cleveland Thursday, has won five consecutive games in the series against Miami including the first two meetings this season in South Florida by eight and 10 points each. Boston is 7-6 at home and 12-7 on the road entering Thursday's game against the Cavaliers.