No, never easy. Not the 2022-23 Miami Heat.
Not at home. Not on the road. And not even when the game begins before seemingly either team is fully awake.
So, Sunday, just more of the same for Erik Spoelstra’s team.
Up 13 in the second period. Down 12 in the fourth.
And, ultimately, another fight to the finish, this time in what turned into arguably one of the worst losses of the season.
Against an opponent that entered 14-36, the Heat’s three-game winning streak came to an end on an afternoon the defense and 3-point game sputtered in a 122-117 loss to the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center.
“I mean, this has been our story all year,” guard Tyler Herro said. “We come in here and we can’t focus on the nights like this. And then we’ll go play some of the better teams, the top teams in the league, and we get a better effort out of ourselves.
“I think that’s the thing that we notice as a team, but we just got to be able to bring our energy on nights like this.”
With 28 points from Jimmy Butler,24 from Herro and 17 from Bam Adebayo not enough, the Heat got off to the shakiest of starts to a four-game trip that only gets tougher, with games to follow against the Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks.
Five Degrees of Heat from Sunday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Heat led 28-26 at the end of the first quarter, 62-58 at halftime, went up 13 in the third, but trailed 91-86 going into the fourth.
“We let them get in the flow,” Adebayo said of the Heat not building on their double-digit lead. “When you have them down 10, that’s when we’re supposed to go for the kill in a sense and just put them away. But we coasted around and let them get back in the game and they got in a rhythm.”
So the Heat ultimately found themselves down 108-96 with 5:54 to play, before rallying within 108-106 with 3:51 to play on an Adebayo inside basket.
The Hornets countered with the next six points, punctuated by a LaMelo Ball 3-pointer for a 114-196 lead 1:51 to play.
A Herro 3-pointer then drew the Heat within 116-111 with one minute to play, but it wasn’t enough.
“These are tough lessons for our ball club,” Spoelstra said. “I see a path for our team to be great, but it’s going to require much more consistency night in and night out to develop that reliability.”
2. Attack mode: With plenty of lethargy around him, Butler stepped up with 12 second-quarter points to move to 16 at the intermission.
Butler’s energy was needed, with the Heat with Adebayo with only one first-half rebound, Kyle Lowry 0 for 5 over the first two periods and the Heat with just four first-half 3-pointers.
Butler’s 16th point gave him 13,000 for his career. He had 22 going into the fourth quarter.
But he said the Heat ultimately got what they deserved, based on their defensive inefficiency.
“We didn’t guard nobody,” he said. “It wasn’t just in the fourth quarter. We didn’t guard nobody all game, and then they started getting some easy ones and then all the tough ones started going in. That’s the way the basketball universe works.”
3. Slump buster: At 6 of 37 on 3-pointers in his previous six games back from a three-game absence due to Achilles soreness, Herro converted his first four 3-point attempts.
Against a Hornets defense often playing in drop coverage, the spacing was there for Herro, who was up to 12 points by halftime.
“It felt good,” Herro said. “But a win would have felt better. We just got to keep winning games. I’m not too worried about my shots.”
Herro then missed four of his final five 3-point attempts.
4. Kyle time: After being held out of the previous two fourth quarters, Lowry returned along with Butler with 6:54 to play and the Heat down 104-93.
The change had Lowry closing in place of Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, who had been the closers the previous two games.
Lowry closed 3 of 11 from the field, including 2 of 7 on 3-pointers, with five assists and four rebounds.
“They imposed their offensive will, instead of us putting our defensive will on the game,” Lowry said.
5. Early access: The 1 p.m. game was the eighth of the Heat’s nine scheduled afternoon games (starts before 6 p.m. local time). Their lone remaining afternoon game is the 1 p.m. April 9 season finale in Orlando.
Spoelstra went in downplaying the early start time.
“A lot of it is you can breathe things into existence either way. And the way you think about it grows,” he said. “And so for us, we actually have played some really good afternoon games and we really want to approach this with a no-excuse mindset.
“I actually love the day games, once the game ends. The prep, it’s a little bit of a different routine. But that’s what keeps this Association and the regular season interesting. There are some different things that are thrown your way.”