With the Hornets in town, the buzz was gone.
No, this was not the electric atmosphere of Sunday afternoon, when the Miami Heat made a rare regular-season statement with their decision over the Chicago Bulls.
Instead, it opened as every bit the struggle of the second night of the Heat’s previous two home-and-home back-to-back sets.
Languid. Lethargic. Listless.
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With New Orleans making 10 of its first 11 shots.
The difference is unlike those games against the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks, the Heat found their second wind and used it to blow past the West-worst Hornets 109-95 Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“We started the game in a little bit of a fog,” coach Erik Spoelstra understated.
The night almost assuredly would have included LeBron James’ first triple-double of the season had he been needed for the fourth quarter, which he wasn’t, with the Heat up 87-68 at that stage, later pushing their lead to 27 in the fourth.
Instead, James finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, leaving his last triple-double as the one he had in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, when he had 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. His last regular-season triple-double was March 29 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, when he had 27 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.
“I didn’t know,” Spoelstra said of James’ numbers. “I was thinking about throwing him back in and throwing Dwyane (Wade) back in, but we made a little bit of a push, decided to run it out and think big picture.”
James, who was limited to 30 minutes, was fine with that.
“You want me to be honest,” he said with a smirk. “I’d rather take the 12 (minutes rest).”
Down 12 at one point in the first-half, the Heat instead closed out the homestand 3-0 to extend their winning streak to five and make it eight victories in their last nine.
The motivation Sunday was apparent from the outset:
To quiet any doubt with the Bulls standing at the top of the East at this early stage of the post-lockout schedule.
The motivation Monday?
That had to be particularly difficult to find in this post-Chris Paul era for the Hornets. Not only did New Orleans enter 4-16, but were missing two of their best players, with guard Eric Gordon still sidelined with a bruised knee and Chris Kaman remaining behind as the Hornets seek a trade for the disgruntled veteran center.
But the Hornets finally got the Heat’s attention when they moved to a 45-33 lead midway through the second period.
That’s when Wade got going, scoring nine points as the Heat closed out the first half on an 18-4 run to take a 51-49 lead into the break.