The Heat’s injury woes continued on Sunday night, with reserve forward Chris Andersen going out with a sprained ankle.
Andersen went down in the first quarter after falling awkwardly under the basket and was immediately taken to the locker room. He didn’t return, and Udonis Haslem took Andersen’s spot in the rotation. Andersen played two minutes before the injury, and Haslem finished with four points, going 2 of 3 from the field in 16 minutes.
Andersen’s injury is the fourth major health setback for the Heat in the past two weeks. Starting shooting guard Dwyane Wade has missed six games with a hamstring injury, starting point guard Norris Cole dislocated his left middle finger against the Clippers and has now missed two games in a row. Starting small forward Luol Deng missed a game recently with a sprained wrist.
Establishing chemistry on the court has been difficult with so many players out, Deng said.
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“It’s just finding ways,” said Deng, who finished with 26 points. “It’s tough because, it felt like you’re getting used to it, you figured it out, you’re getting used to the starting lineup and just trying to play off D-Wade and play off [Chris] Bosh and stuff like that and Cole being a point guard and then switching it up and having different lineups, and then we had James [Ennis] start and now Shannon [Brown] starting, and I was out for a game.
“Hopefully, it will make us better, but it’s a lot going on at the same time. I think we’ve found ways to just get used to it.”
The injuries to the Heat’s starting backcourt has given rookie point guard Shabazz Napier plenty of playing time. He has made the most of it, becoming a regular rotation player, and on Sunday went 4 of 9 from the field for 14 points in 34 minutes.
“I’m just thankful,” Napier said. “I work, and I understand that any opportunity I’m given, whether it’s two minutes or 20 minutes, I just want to go out there and try my best. I’m happy to be here, and I want to stay here, and the only way I know how to do that is to compete.”
Napier went 4 of 5 from three-point range, and the long ball kept the Heat in front of the Hornets for most of the game. Miami finished 11 of 23 from three-point range.
“It takes effort,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of containing the Heat’s three-point shooters. “The other thing they do is they get fouled a lot. Their offense is based on sound principles. They have attacking guards that get the ball into the paint at the rim and draw fouls.
“That is where they create their threes, which is what the good teams do. They are very much inside-out.”
The Heat’s paint attacks have been limited with Wade out. The Heat went 17 of 19 from the free-throw line against the Hornets, with Mario Chalmers going 9 of 10 from the line.
Clifford was also complimentary of Bosh before the game.
“He’s got an amazing skill level for a guy his size,” Clifford said. “He’s been an elite scorer for a long time. The way they utilize him, where he’s forcing matchups a lot of time with centers, it makes him difficult to contain.”