Photo by Associated Press.
Originally Published: April 17, 2016 7:57 p.m.
MIAMI — Luol Deng made his Miami postseason debut one to remember.
And with a franchise record for points, the Heat are off to a flying playoff start.
Deng scored 31 points on 11-for-13 shooting for his best game in a Miami uniform, Hassan Whiteside added 21 points and 11 rebounds in his postseason debut, and the Heat routed the Charlotte Hornets 123-91 on Sunday in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series.
"We knew it was time to play Miami Heat basketball," Whiteside said. "It was going to start with our defense and defense led to offense."
Miami scored 41 points in the first quarter to tie one franchise playoff record, set another with the 123 points — topping the 121 in the 2012 NBA Finals clincher against Oklahoma City — and never trailed.
"Whether you lose by 30 or one, it's 1-0," Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. "So we lost one game. But obviously, particularly up front, we just got manhandled. And if Deng and Whiteside are going to combine for that kind of numbers, it's going to be hard for us to win."
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Miami.
Dwyane Wade scored 16 points in 25 minutes for the Heat in their first playoff game since the 2014 Finals. Joe Johnson and Amare Stoudemire each scored 11 points, and Goran Dragic had 10 assists.
Nic Batum scored 24 points for the Hornets, who emptied the bench with 4:11 left and Miami leading by 31. Kemba Walker added 19 in his fifth career playoff game, all of them against Miami and all of them losses. "I thought we were going to be ready to go," Batum said. "This team has guys who have been there before ... we've got to be ready next game. This may be a good lesson for us."
Al Jefferson had 13 for Charlotte, which had an identical 48-34 record as the Heat in the regular season but was the No. 6 seed to Miami's No. 3. And the Heat took full advantage of that home-court edge.
Miami outrebounded Charlotte 42-28, and outshot the Hornets 58 to 43 percent.
"Our offense wasn't the problem," Clifford said.
Deng opened the scoring with a corner 3, which ordinarily wouldn't seem that significant — except he never cooled off in his first playoff game since 2013. He was 5 for 5 in the first quarter to help stake Miami to a 19-point lead.
"He wants to make winning plays," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He wants to help a team. I think that will be different things, different nights. ... Mature, veteran players understand it's not about the numbers. It's about contribution of winning plays."
A foul-line jumper with about 8 minutes left pushed him to 31 points, his best total in two seasons in a Heat uniform and his highest-scoring game since scoring 37 points in 56 triple-overtime-inflated minutes for Chicago against New Orleans on Dec. 2, 2013. Fans actually groaned a bit when Deng missed an open 3 from the right corner midway through the fourth.
It was about the only time they couldn't cheer all night.
Charlotte had 28 free throws by halftime, a season high. The Hornets' best for any half this season was 29, in the second half at Brooklyn on Nov. 18.
Miami has won 10 consecutive first-round games, and it was Spoelstra's 100th postseason game as Miami's head coach. He is 64-36, the second-best (.640) in NBA history behind only 11-time champion Phil Jackson (.688).
Batum had 20 points, zero rebounds and zero assists in the first half. Over the last 10 years, the only players to have such numbers in a postseason half were Dirk Nowitzki in 2006, Kobe Bryant in 2012 and DeMarre Carroll last year — all three finishing with 21 points, no rebounds and no assists. Like Batum, each did it in a first half.
To say the Heat hold an edge in playoff experience would be an understatement. Miami's 13-man active roster for Game 1 came into Sunday with 8,343 points in 555 playoff appearances. Charlotte's players in uniform had 1,825 points in 237 games.
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