Hornets feel Wade's wrath in Heat's ninth straight win
MIAMI — Coming off a West Coast road trip that took its toll, still riding an eight-game win streak that's changed the direction of their season, and playing a top-tier opponent, the Miami Heat made a simple statement Monday night:
This run — this marked change — is for real.
"This was a good win against a proven team we knew would come in with a real desperate mindset," coach Erik Spoelstra said.
There were too many reasons to expect a loss to the New Orleans Hornets on the night of Miami's return to AmericanAirlines Arena.
• You can't win them all.
• Chris Paul.
• The wear and tear of all that travel and all that passion that coated their time out west.
• Winning teams, like New Orleans, usually know how to expose things like a tired opponent, a weakness against point guards, an adversary that might be tempted to feel pretty darn good about itself and pull back at the wrong time.
Not a problem, not a one.
Heat 96, Hornets 84.
"It was good because there were a lot of built-in excuses," Spoelstra said. "Coming back from a road trip, don't have two days in between. That could be an excuse.
"Proven contending team only scores 70 points yesterday in a real disappointing loss and we knew they'd be very motivated in this game. And just the flow of the game. It wasn't our style."
It didn't need to be. The Heat have rage on their side.
This was a game in which anger played a bigger role than rebounds, rotations, team chemistry or clutch shooting.
In the first half, with fatigue showing and the Heat on the way to getting out-rebounded in the first half 27-13, the Hornets made a fatal flaw.
They pissed off Dwyane Wade.
"I still remember the time against the Knicks when they struck blood," Spoelstra said. "That's probably the worst thing you can do against Dwyane."
Spoelstra, setting aside his Riley-trained stoicism, let out a knowing laugh and shook his head. It said: What were they thinking?
"It sparked, certainly, his interest at that point in the game," Spoelstra went on, still smiling.
Did it ever.
Wade exploded for 17 more points to make it 20 in the second quarter, showing anger can indeed overcome dominant interior play.
Anger burns like pure fuel in Wade, and as a result he performs at his highest on it.
Like Darth Vader.
Like Don Draper.
"It's nice to watch it when you have the same jersey," Chris Bosh said. "It's not as fun when you're on the other team. I've been on the other side plenty of times and it's not cool. But it's cool now."
That's the advantage, among many, of having two superstars on the same team (and fraction of one in Bosh).
When a letdown game should be upon you, when a worthy opponent should be poised to take advantage, one of them can sometimes will the whole team to a win.
Instead each of the so-called Big Three owned a quarter.
Bosh, the first: Team-leading seven points that quarter on way to double-double.
Wade, mad as hell, the second: 20 of his 32 points.
LeBron James, the third: 13 of his 20 points in quarter.
All of this continues to add up to a much different, much more dangerous team.
"This is one of the most gratifying wins for us, because it's a grind-out win," Wade said. "Earlier in the season, it would have gone the other way, but we're a mentally tough team now."
No argument here.
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