Miami Heat

Stunning turnaround by Hornets has Heat on brink of elimination in Game 6

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on Thursday called this “our first real test. Elimination games … are where playoff reputations are built.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on Thursday called this “our first real test. Elimination games … are where playoff reputations are built.” dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

In one week, the Charlotte Hornets have gone from being one loss away from equaling the NBA’s all-time longest postseason losing streak (13) to one win away from vanquishing the Heat and advancing.

Meanwhile, the Heat has gone from dominant to desperate, suddenly down 3-2 and hoping it can win a Game 6 at 8 p.m. Friday in Charlotte to force a Game 7 in Miami at 1 p.m. Sunday on ABC.

How stunning is this turnaround? Of the 26 previous teams in NBA history that took a 2-0 lead and then lost three in a row, none won the first two games by as large a combined margin as Miami did (44 points).

“To go on the road, with a team that hasn’t won much on the road and figure out a way to get a win, it gets no tougher than that in the playoffs,” Dwyane Wade said.

Joe Johnson, who was a Brooklyn Net the only time this season that Miami lost four in a row (in January), said he’s surprised it has come to this but “the first two games weren’t reality on how this series would go.”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on Thursday called this “our first real test. Elimination games … are where playoff reputations are built.”

Among the issues the Heat must address:

▪ Offensive inefficiency. Hornets coach Steve Clifford has been transparent with his strategy: Dare some of the Heat’s perimeter shoots to beat them and instead pack the paint. Hassan Whiteside said Thursday he sometimes has “four or five” defenders around him when he gets the ball.

“We’re saying you don’t have range shooters. Shoot,” Clifford admitted before Game 5. The Heat made those shots the first two games but hasn’t made enough since.

After averaging 119 points and hitting 57.8 percent of its shots the first two games, the Heat has averaged 84 since and shot 34.2 percent, 39.5 percent and 42 percent the past three games.

Luol Deng and Goran Dragic are both 14 for 38 since Game 3 (36.8 percent), Justise Winslow 5 for 21 and Josh Richardson 5 for 20. Also, the Heat had just 14 combined turnovers the first two games but 45 since.

“We’re not that potent of an offensive team,” Wade said. “Those first two games were an aberration. That doesn’t happen in the playoffs.”

▪ Defensive issues. There’s disagreement here, with the Heat believing it has done a better job than some national pundits suggest. “All the games, we played great defense,” Dragic said Thursday. Wade said “our numbers have been great.”

Charlotte is averaging just 93.8 points and shooting 40.7 percent in the series.

But TNT’s Charles Barkley said “they can’t stop their guards from penetrating. Jeremy Lin gets by them any time he wants. Kemba Walker gets a good shot every single time.” Lin has taken 32 free throws and Walker 27 in this series, more than any Heat player.

“Kemba Walker is going to get where he wants to get a lot of times,” Wade said. “We made some adjustments, but they capitalized. When we put two on the ball to stop [Lin] from getting into the paint, he did a great job of making the extra pass to the big guy, and we weren’t prepared on the opposite side of the floor.”

And the Hornets, who were the NBA’s seventh-best three-point shooting team during the season, made 12 of 24 threes in Game 5 after hitting 16 for 67 in the first four.

▪ Road issues. The Heat has lost seven of its past nine away games. In the past three, the Heat was at the losing end of runs of 20-0 (against Boston), 18-0 (Game 3 against Charlotte) and 17-3 (Game 4).

“We’re kind of so jittery at some points that we have a tendency to try to go out and do it ourselves,” Johnson said.

Said Wade: “Once we get in that situation again, we’ve got to do a better job collecting ourselves. You get to a point sometimes when a team is making a run, you stop moving the ball the same way. … And defensively, … if one person is not in position because he’s frustrated, it affects it.”

Miami has gone 2-7 on the road against playoff teams since the All-Star break, beating only Atlanta and Detroit.

▪ Though Spoelstra and former NBA vice president Stu Jackson said Wade was fouled in the final six seconds of Game 5 — nothing was called — the NBA, in its usual day-after referee report, said Wade was not fouled by anyone (neither Cody Zeller nor Courtney Lee) on that possession.

▪ The Sioux Falls Skyforce, the Heat’s NBDL affiliate, won the league’s championship with a 91-63 Game 3 victory against the Los Angeles D-Fenders on Wednesday night. Former Heat forward Jarnell Stokes was named Finals MVP.

▪ Hornets center Spencer Hawes is out at least a week with a sprained right knee, the team announced.

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