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Hornets Fall Just Short of Another Impressive Win

Well, that was a tough, tough loss.

Of course there was the (lucky?) Haslem bucket to win, but we shot ourselves in the collective foot with missed opportunities aplenty. But you know what? It's tough not to be very happy with this team. We came within a few seconds of consecutively defeating the Suns, the Hawks, and the Heat without our best player. At the end of the day, the attitude and spirit of the team should be acknowledged.

Lots to talk about; let's get to some player comments first:

  • Right off the bat, I've got to hand it to Dwyane Wade. He was amazing last year, he's amazing this year; he's surely one of the top 3 players in the game with CP and LBJ. He was simply in a different gear than anyone else on the floor. Between the threes he hit, the blocks he made, the fastbreaks he lead, Wade simply dominated on both ends of the floor, and even his final stat line of 31/6/3 doesn't really do his game justice.
  • Devin Brown. As I've said many times before, Devin Brown has his uses. He can aggressively take it to the hoop for a stagnant offense or with the shot clock winding down. He can draw contact and get to the line when the other team is in the bonus. Unfortunately, he's deployed too often for other purposes. He should not be shooting threes early in the shot clock. He should not be the primary ball-handler on fast breaks. That is all. 
  • Michael Beasley had himself a very solid game. More than anyone else on the Heat, I felt like he took advantage of the Hornets being on the end of a back-to-back. By that, I mean he routinely used his first step to get in front of a tired defender. And he often finished strong in the paint. I think Beasley will continue to be a perplexing NBA player for a while longer (ie, won't have the stats his frame and pedigree say he should), but he played a solid game tonight.
  • How about James Posey? He busted out of a slump in a big way, with 4 threes. He was adequate on defense too, though the days of him staying in front of a guy like Wade are long over. Bower was wise to not try that too often and simply go with what was working. 
  • We didn't see any Hilton today; some of it may have been due to his showing last night. Sean Marks' only points came off his tip-in, and he ended up registering just 10 minutes overall. 

I'd question Bower's decision to play Marks so little (in fact, he and Emeka combined for just 24 minutes). But there's actually good evidence that this was the right call. A glance at the rebounding figures suggests that both team were relatively even: 41 for the good guys, and 42 for the Wades. However, tonight was a prime instance of raw rebounding numbers lying a little bit. The Heat collected just 4 offensive boards, almost half their season average. On the other hand, the Hornets missed twenty (twenty!) more shots than Miami. The Heat had an opportunity to get their hands on twenty more loose boards than did the Hornets (defensively). So in an overall sense, the rebounding numbers balanced out. But if we look at the rate stats, the Hornets collected a whopping 88.2% of all Miami misses; the Heat collected just 77.6% of Hornets' misses.

All of this is to say that the Hornets were doing fine on the glass with Okafor and Marks sitting. Now, whether that duo could have prevented the Miami lay-up line is another question altogether.

Of course, some of the low PT was due to Emeka's foul trouble. That first half was among the ugliest, most foul-prone I've seen in a while. James Posey racked up 4 fouls in 10 minutes. West, Okafor, and Devin Brown all picked up 2 fouls apiece in the first quarter. Both teams had reached the penalty at the 6:30 mark in that period. The Hornets have to be unhappy with how it all ultimately played out, however. The Heat were able to parlay the foul-fest into 28 trips to the foul line. The Hornets? Just 19.

The Hornets' inability to get to the free throw line in such an oddly officiated game was perhaps THE biggest missed opportunity. The fourth quarter exemplified this- the Hornets had reached the bonus with 6:31 to play. The Heat were fouled just once all quarter. And yet, the Hornets took a measly four free throws in the remaining time, with the Heat achieving just two fewer (2).

Of those four free throws, the one miss was another lost chance. That shot, of course, came off the hands of Marcus Thornton, who had an otherwise exemplary game. It's hard to fault the team for missing just two free throws in 19 attempts all game. But Thornton's miss came in the clutch, and the other miss was by Darren Collison, who shot 95% entering the game, and 90% last year at UCLA. It's stupid to find fault with either player for the misses, but they'll remain in the nagging, back-of-the-mind category.

After a red-hot first half (18 points on 16 attempts), Thornton didn't receive nearly as many chances in the second half (6 points on 3 attempts). I'm not entirely sure why this is; the offense, overall, maintained good consistency though.

And, finally, the last missed opportunity came on the final play of the game. David West has knocked down many, many, many big shots for the Hornets. Those fans during the bleak Dan Dickau years will remember his game winners against Memphis, those fans during better times will remember his game winners against Indiana, Cleveland, and those same Grizzlies. The common thread amongst all those winners? Chris Paul set them up via the pick and roll. Tonight, the Hornets decided to isolate West, and it backfired. I would have loved to see Collison run the same P&R play with West.

Alas, it didn't transpire, and it just didn't happen for the Hornets tonight.