As Heat visits, it’s time for Hornets to get tough

NEW ORLEANS — After the New Orleans Hornets lost to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night, coach Monty Williams said his team has to get back to playing with force.

The Hornets did that — particularly on defense and in rebounding — while winning three consecutive games before Wednesday’s loss.

With a game against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat set for Friday night at New Orleans Arena, getting back to aggressive, physical basketball is a must, Williams said. The Chicago Bulls showed just that while ending the visiting Heat’s 27-game winning streak Wednesday — although the Bulls may have crossed the line.

“(The Heat) have so many ways they can beat you,” Williams said Thursday. “They can go inside. They can shoot the ball. They’re great in transition. Obviously, everybody is going to think the blueprint is to go out there and knock them out the way that Chicago did, but that’s easier said than done. We’d like to play a physical style as well, but not illegally.”

Williams said he is not disappointed the Hornets won’t get a chance to snap the streak; he’s more concerned about his young team’s progress. His and his team’s focus has been on correcting its play and just beating an excellent team Friday night.

“I’m more concerned with our defense in the fourth quarter (Wednesday) and our lack of scoring — 26-14 against (the Clippers), a team that was playing a back-to-back,” he said. “We just didn’t have the same execution and ball movement that we needed.”

Regardless of whether the Heat remained on the second-longest winning streak in NBA history, the Hornets would have to be on their game.

“Let’s face it: Sometimes they just have to have a bad night for you to beat them,” Williams said. “And we have to be really good in transition defense, we have to take care of the ball, certainly have to rebound and we have to stop dribble penetration. They do such a good job of getting in your paint and finding shooters. They get to the free-throw line a lot. So, there’s a number of things you have to do to win.”

One of Miami’s staples is its ability to go on lopsided scoring runs. That is of particular concern to the Hornets — especially with starting point guard Greivis Vasquez (sprained ankle) sitting out again.

The Hornets beat Boston on March 20, Memphis on March 22 and Denver on Monday in consecutive games, holding each to 86 points or fewer and 42 percent shooting or worse.

But in two games earlier this month, they blew a 19-point lead in an embarrassing loss to lowly Orlando, then watched Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers overcome a 25-point deficit. Also, Brooklyn and Golden State pulled away late to hand the Hornets defeats.

The Heat uses stifling defense to turn its play up a notch. It gets more stops, fueling a fast break with many options. At least three players who can bring the ball up on the break and distribute it are usually on the court: point guard Mario Chalmers, shooting guard Dwyane Wade and forward LeBron James, although there are others on the bench who also are adept.

The facilitator can take the ball to the basket, pass to a cutter for a layup, find a spot-up 3-point shooter or lob the ball for James or former Hornet Chris “Birdman” Andersen on the secondary break. That’s why the Hornets must have the type of ball movement and execution they did against the Nuggets, when they had 30 assists on 43 baskets.

It also would help if the Hornets went to the boards the way they did during the three-game winning streak, when they outrebounded foes by a combined 139-93. The Hornets grabbed 44 offensive rebounds in that stretch.

That kind of execution and rebounding will slow any fast break. But the Hornets will have to do it without Vasquez, who sat out against the Nuggets but came back against the Clippers. But he was largely ineffective: zero points, four assists, three turnovers and five fouls in 27 minutes, 50 seconds.

“I’m not 100 percent, but I don’t want to sit out and not play,” he said. “But I found out (Wednesday night), that’s probably the best way to go because I can’t move the way I want to move. When you’re not 100 percent healthy, it’s hard to help your team win games. So it was a bad move by myself to come back that quick.”

Note

The Hornets signed guard Terrel Harris for the rest of the season. Harris was on his second 10-day contract, which would have expired Thursday. He played seven games with the Heat before being waived Jan. 5 and has played seven more with the Hornets, averaging 0.6 points. His defense has impressed Williams.