(The Sports Xchange) - Luol Deng will have pleasant memories of his first playoff game with the Miami Heat.
Deng scored 31 points as the Heat routed the Charlotte Hornets 123-91 Sunday in Game 1 of the teams’ first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.
Deng shot 11-for-13 from the field and 5-for-7 from 3-point range in his first postseason appearance for the Heat, who never trailed and built a double-digit lead midway through the first quarter.
“The excitement and atmosphere was great,” Deng said. “It makes you ready to play in a game like that. I appreciate the fact that I am back and that as a team we were ready.”
Hassan Whiteside finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds in his playoff debut. Whiteside shot 9-for-11 from the field and blocked three shots.
“It’s a blessing for me to be in the playoffs against my hometown team, and it’s a real great chapter in my life,” said Whiteside, of Gastonia, N.C. “We’re in the playoffs, it’s all or nothing, leave it out on the court. We just came out and played our hearts out as a team.”
Dwyane Wade scored 16 points and Goran Dragic had nine points and 10 assists in his Miami playoff debut. Amar‘e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson were Miami’s other double-figure scorers with 11 points each.
Nicolas Batum scored 24 points and Kemba Walker finished with 19 points for the Hornets.
Miami finished with 27 assists compared to Charlotte’s 11.
“This is how we’ve been playing since the All-Star break, sharing the wealth, obviously some games more than others,” said Wade, who had seven assists. “Everyone is feeling the ball in what we are trying to do offensively.”
Miami also shot better at 3-point range than the Hornets, converting nine of 18 from beyond the arc while Charlotte finished 6-for-17.
“Some nights we’ll have opportunities to hit threes like these, but we’re built differently,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re trying to maximize our strengths as much as we can.”
The Heat tied a team playoff record for points in a quarter by taking a 41-22 lead at the end of the first period. The mark was set originally against the New Jersey Nets on May 10, 2006.
Deng scored 14 points in the quarter and Whiteside added 10, leading Miami to its 19-point advantage. Whiteside’s hook shot with 4:42 left gave the Heat their first double-digit lead at 23-13. Deng was 3-for-3 on 3-pointers in the period, and Josh Richardson’s conversion from beyond the arc with 44 seconds left increased Miami’s advantage to 39-20.
“He wants to make winning plays,” Spoelstra said of Deng. “He wants to help a team, so that will be different things, different nights.”
The Hornets avoided a larger first-half deficit as they converted 21 of 28 free throws.
“We just got manhandled,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said. “If Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside are going to combine for those kinds of numbers, then it will be hard for us to win.”
Unlike the Heat’s regular-season finale at Boston on Wednesday, when they squandered a 24-point halftime lead and lost by double digits, Miami built a 17-point advantage at halftime and ran off seven unanswered points to start the second half.
Deng scored five points during the early second-half spurt, and his layup 2:23 into the second half gave Miami a 74-50 lead.
“I think that loss in Boston helped us a lot,” Whiteside said. “It made us have a better understanding of what it takes to get stops and to score when times get stressful.”
Stoudemire’s dunk with 4:11 remaining in the fourth quarter gave the Heat their first 30-point lead at 115-84.
“That was a very bad game,” Batum said. “We got to get ready for the next game. We got to regroup ourselves.”
Game 2 will be Wednesday night at Miami before the series shifts to Charlotte for Games 3 and 4 on Saturday and April 25.