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.
With 28 points from Jimmy Butler and 24 from Tyler Herro not enough, the Heat got off to an unexpectedly shaky start to a four-game trip that only gets tougher, with games to follow against the Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks.
The Heat also got 17 points from center Bam Adebayo.
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.
The Heat then went 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 minutes to play, but it wasn’t enough.
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.
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.
He then missed his next three 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.
Lowry to that point was 1 of 7 from the field, including 1 of 5 on 3-pointers, with three assists and two rebounds.
The change had Lowry closing in place of Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, who had been the closers the previous two games.
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.”