2001 NBA Finals

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'Harsh criticism'

Master motivator Riley tries to rally his troops

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Posted: Wednesday April 25, 2001 1:11 AM


MIAMI (AP) -- Seeking to explain the Miami Heat's astounding back-to-back playoff drubbings at home against the Charlotte Hornets, coach Pat Riley pulled out a dictionary Tuesday.

The word to which he turned: "quit."

"I seized on the word because it's obvious that's what is on everybody's mind," Riley said. "That's what 26-point butt-kickings bring out. It's a rather harsh criticism, but in light of the results of the first two games, you can't blame anybody for using it."

When asked if his players have quit, Riley said no. But he shared with them the definition of the word, now that Miami has dug the deepest possible hole in the best-of-five series.

Playing at home, the Heat endured their two most lopsided defeats of the season: 106-80 on Saturday and 102-76 on Monday. The series moves to Charlotte for Game 3 on Friday and -- if necessary -- Game 4 on Monday.

Few who watched the two blowouts figure a fourth game will be necessary. But the Heat say they aren't ready to concede, much less quit.

"There's enough pride and character on this team to bounce back," forward Brian Grant said. "We're going to go up to Charlotte and get a win Friday."

The pledge sounds a bit hollow in the wake of Miami's miserable performances so far. But at least give Grant credit for talking to reporters; teammates Tim Hardaway, Anthony Carter and Anthony Mason declined to discuss the Heat's dire straits.

"We're asking ourselves how did it get to this," Grant said. "It's hard to deal with."

The drubbings are especially galling given the Heat's playoff history. They were eliminated by a lower-seeded New York Knicks team each of the past three years, which prompted Riley to revamp his roster in a nine-player trade last August with -- ouch -- Charlotte.

Now the Heat, seeded third in the Eastern Conference, are on the verge of losing to a lower-seeded team yet again.

"They've gotten kicked twice -- not just beaten, but thoroughly whipped," Hornets guard David Wesley said. "It's frustrating for them. The worst team in the NBA doesn't want to play that way."

The Heat won 50 regular-season games despite playing short-handed all season, and health woes may finally be taking a toll. Hardaway has been ineffective on his sore left foot, and Alonzo Mourning is battling back spasms and lethargy 15 games into his comeback from kidney disease.

But perhaps the biggest problem has been the poor play of backup point guard Carter. The Heat have been outscored by 11 points when Hardaway is on the court and by 40 with Carter playing.

"Anthony Carter is a guy we believe in who unfortunately right now is experiencing some problems," Riley said.

It seems the Hornets, by contrast, can do nothing wrong. They have a 102-84 edge in rebounds, a 55-23 advantage at the free-throw line and 29 turnovers to 40 for Miami.

Perhaps most surprising, Charlotte has twice topped 100 points against a team that allowed triple figures in only eight regular-season games, an NBA record.

"This has always been considered one of the hardest-playing, toughest-minded, defensive-oriented teams in the league," Riley said. "What is mystifying to me right now is that we have not come close to being that kind of team. They have absolutely sliced us up."

Jamal Mashburn, shipped to Charlotte in the blockbuster trade last August, has been the leading scorer in both games. He's averaging 25 points in six games against Miami this season.

"We have no problem scoring, getting easy baskets and getting the ball inside," Mashburn said.

Neither team practiced Tuesday. The Heat met for two hours, and Riley said most of the adjustments needed are mental.

His 155 playoff victories are an NBA record, but he's 18-24 in six postseasons with the Heat and now faces one of the most daunting coaching challenges of his career.

Only one team -- Phoenix against the Los Angeles Lakers in 1993 -- has won a best-of-five series after losing the first two games at home.

Will the Heat come back? Will they at least make a stand?

Or will they quit?

"There are eight or nine definitions," Riley said. "It has to do with abandoning a group, relinquishing control, walking away from responsibility.

"Charlotte has absolutely been masterful in how they've played the game, and they have made us look bad. I don't think there's any quit in this team, but we're getting beat so badly it looks like there is."

Related information
Hornets put Heat on brink with 26-point rout
2001 NBA Playoffs: Talking Trash, First Round
Heat's Hardaway goes from dispirited to defiant
Mashburn, Hornets turn up heat on Miami 106-80
Mourning hopes his comeback is just beginning
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