MIAMI -- When the Heat were in the midst of their struggles during November, at times it didn’t seem to matter who they were playing.
Now that they have things turned around -- they won their ninth consecutive game by beating the Hornets 96-84 on Monday night -- the opponent is starting to take on more meaning. Especially because of those issues last month.
Three of the Heat’s most disappointing losses came against Western Conference playoff contenders. Miami was outplayed down the stretch and lost at New Orleans; they collapsed in blowing a 22-point lead at home against the Jazz and they seemed to have a team-wide breakdown against the Mavericks in Dallas that forced them into a players-only meeting.
Their current scheduled has allowed the Heat to go back and correct their early-season mistakes, and they're taking advantage of those opportunities.
Last week, the Heat put together an impressive all-around performance in Utah to beat the Jazz, 111-98, and avenge their terrible home loss. Paul Millsap managed 46 points in the first meeting, but the Heat “held” him to 18 points. That helped turn the tide in Salt Lake City.
On Monday, it was the Hornets’ turn. After letting Chris Paul rip up their defense for 19 assists the first time around, the Heat did a much better job of cutting off his driving lanes and he was held to only 11 points and five assists.
That’s two check marks with a chance at the third, the Mavericks, next Monday in Miami.
“That is always satisfaction to beat a team that beat you before,” said Chris Bosh, who had 23 points and 11 rebounds in the win over the Hornets. “We kept that in mind and we used that for extra motivation.”
That extra little edge might have been meaningful. Coming off a week-long trip to the west, the Heat were a little short on practice time and energy. They didn’t land in Miami from Sacramento until 8 a.m. Sunday morning. In an effort to help get his team rest, coach Erik Spoelstra did not hold the standard shootaround Monday morning.
“It is good to come back when you lose against a team early in the season,” said Dwyane Wade, who had 32 points for his third consecutive 30-point game.
“We weren’t as good as we we’re going to be at that time. Those teams caught us at that time. You’re not out to prove anything to them. We just want to play good basketball and it just so happens we’re playing those teams.”
After not winning a game in November against a team that is currently over .500, the Heat are starting to assemble some quality wins. They have now won their last three games against winning teams, with a big game looming on Friday in New York even before they get a rematch with the Mavericks.
“We have learned some things about our team since we struggled early in the season,” LeBron James said. “There were games just like (Monday night) where we just couldn’t get off over the hump. Having those experiences like we did earlier in the season allowed us to get where we are now.”