The way Steve Clifford sees it, his team is down 2-0 to the Miami Heat because it had six terrible defensive quarters to start the series, and players like Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow hit shots in Game 2 they normally don’t make.
The Hornets’ biggest issue, Clifford said Friday, has been stopping Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson from using their size and vision to feed the ball inside off pick-and-rolls. So, he has urged his team to get back to deflecting those passes like they did in the regular season.
If anything, Clifford has been pretty adamant about one thing — his offense has been good enough to beat the Heat twice already. And nobody in a Heat uniform Friday — not even its youngest player — was really arguing with that.
“I think our offense has been overshadowing the defense,” 20-year-old rookie Justise Winslow said. “I don’t know how many points they’ve scored, but probably too much.”
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“I wouldn’t disagree with what [Clifford] said,” coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday after his team practiced at the Time Cable Warner Arena, site of Game 3 Saturday at 5:30 p.m. “[Al] Jefferson and [Kemba] Walker are getting to their games over and over and over again. So, yeah they have a right to feel confident. We have to do a better job on those two guys.”
For as good as the Heat has been offensively in these playoffs — leading all teams in the postseason in both field goal percentage (57.8 percent) and three-point percentage (52.9 percent) — players and coaches have been saying for a couple days now they know they’re going to have to find a different way to win on the road because the hot shooting and high-scoring (119 points per game) likely won’t continue for the entire series.
Wade said he heard what Clifford said to the media after Game 2 regarding defensive adjustments — how if a player is hot or hitting shots they don’t normally make a coach necessarily abandon his game plan. And he agreed.
“This game isn’t about making big adjustments as everyone would like to make it,” Wade said. “Maybe a few coverages here and there, but nothing too big. I’m sure they’re confident as a team. But … we have no pressure. We did our job. Now, the pressure is on them to do their job and win their two games at home. And it’s our job to try to get one.”
The truth is for as good as Clifford thinks his offense has been in this series, the Heat simply hasn’t allowed the Hornets to play to their style. Charlotte, which Spoelstra said was sort of the Golden State of the East because of its three-point attack, has made only seven of its 33 three-point attempts in the series (21.2 percent). The Heat has contested all but four of those shots.
Spoelstra, though, he expects the Hornets to make more threes now that they’re at home.
“You’re never as good as you think you are and you’re never as bad as people say,” Wade said of the Heat’s three-point defense in the series. “We’ve tried to make an adjustment from the regular season in the small doses of two games that we played them. But at the same time, they’ve had some open ones. Go back and look at the film, and they’ve had some shots they feel they would make at home with better rhythm, clearer mind. So, yeah, we got lucky on a couple as well.”
Still, the Heat is playing good defense. In the regular season, Charlotte averaged 10 three-pointers made against the Heat per game and shot 44.9 percent from the field. In this series, the Hornets have shot 42.9 percent and the Heat has contested 76 percent of their shots from the field. That ranks seventh among playoff teams in contested-shot percentage behind the Spurs (95.2 percent), Hawks (86.8 percent), Mavericks (85.2 percent), Raptors (80.2 percent), Pacers (79.1 percent) and Grizzlies (78.9 percent).
With swingman Nicolas Batum out for Saturday’s game — if not longer — with a sprained left ankle, Clifford could opt to go small with his starting lineup and start Jeremy Lin or he could go big with rookie Frank Kaminsky. He said Friday he would wait until tipoff to announce that decision.
One thing Spoelstra wants to see less of is fouls against the Heat. Miami has averaged 24.5 per game, third-most in the playoffs. The Heat averaged the fourth-fewest (18.3) in the regular season.
“I like the way we’re playing,” Wade said. “It’s playoff basketball. I’ll tell our guys to continue to be aggressive and don’t over concern ourselves with what we can’t control.”
Saturday: Heat at Hornets
What: Eastern Conference first round, Game 3.
When/where: 5:30 p.m.; Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, N.C.
TV/radio: TNT, SUN; WAXY 790, WRTO 98.3 FM (Spanish).
Series: Heat leads 2-0.
Scouting report: Hornets swingman Nicolas Batum (sprained left ankle) is out and could miss the rest of the series. The Heat, averaging 119 points at home in the first two games of the playoffs, shot 42.6 percent and averaged 89.5 in its two road games in Charlotte in the regular season. The Hornets were 30-11 at home in the regular season, where they averaged 105.5 points per game.