After beating the Oklahoma City Thunder in a game that had a playoff-like atmosphere (“It felt like a different month,” is what coach Erik Spoelstra had to say afterward), the Miami Heat had little time to celebrate.
Just 24 hours after the 103-97 Christmas evening victory over the Thunder in the first meeting of the two teams since last season’s NBA finals, the Heat were in Charlotte to take on the Bobcats.
Though the Heat have the best record in the Eastern Conference (19-6) and the Bobcats are down near the bottom of the standings at 7-20, the Heat aren’t taking anything for granted.
That’s a lesson that was learned earlier this season.
“We have to play against a team that is going to play so free against us and is going to be hungry and looking for a win,” Heat guard Dywane Wade said. “We can’t have a letdown like we did in D.C.”
That last is a reference to the Dec. 4 meeting with the Wizards, when the Heat arrived in Washington riding a six-game winning streak and lost 105-101 to a team with the worst record in the league.
The Heat followed that embarrassing performance with an equally desultory effort in a 112-92 loss to the New York Knicks to open a six-game homestand.
Since that loss to the Knicks, though, the Heat have gone 7-1 and not allowed any opponent to top the 100-point mark. The loss was at home to the Golden State Warriors.
The Heat were on the road only once in that span (a win at Dallas) and now will play their next four on the road.
After Charlotte, they go to Detroit, Milwaukee, and Orlando to finish out the month.
They start January with three home games against the Mavericks, Bulls, and Wizards.
Chalmers’ big night: Mario Chalmers came up big in the win over Oklahoma City. He scored a season-high 20 points for the game with 12 coming in the first quarter, when he hit five of his six field goal attempts with two of them 3-pointers.
His contribution was a welcome addition as he had scored only 21 points in his previous three games combined.
“Rio hasn’t been playing as well as he would like of latem, and they key on LeBron and they key on myself,” Wade said. “Somebody’s going to be open., and Mario found himself open.
“He was very aggressive first of all. That’s the Mario Chalmers we like to see.”
Spoelstra said “no one doubts” Chalmers in big games.
“You always want him in your foxhole when the pressure is at its highest,” the coach said. “And we needed him tonight.”
Defense crucial: Defense was crucial down the stretch against the Thunder because the Heat didn’t get its usual late-game scoring heroics from Wade or LeBron James.
James did have a key pass to an open Chris Bosh under the basket when the Thunder defense broke down, but that dunk with 25.5 seconds left was the only field goal for the Heat over the last four minutes of the game.
The emphasis on defense is a welcome sight for Spoestra, who noted the Heat were simply relying on their ability to outscore their opponent in the early season.
“We had to own it at some point when we weren’t defending that we had to get back to our identity,” Spoelstra said. “For better or worse, that’s how we’re built.
“Our energy comes from out commitment and activity on the defensive end and to do it for 48 minutes.”
Next up: The Heat are at Charlotte tonight (Dec. 26) for the first of four meetings with the Bobcats. The Heat have won the last eight meetings with the Bobcats. The next two are in Miami on Feb. 4 and March 24. The final one is at Charlotte on April 5.
The Heat have the first of three meetings with the Pistons Friday night in Detroit.