This was a classic case of trying too hard to please.
That was how Gerald Wallace explained it to his new coach, Larry Brown, Saturday. Brown listened, then told Wallace to be himself and not fret about doing everything just so.
And that, to a great extent, is why the Charlotte Bobcats stopped this free fall (Brown's description), beating the Miami Heat 100-87 at Time Warner Cable Arena.
They were 0-8 in the preseason, then lost by 17 to the Cleveland Cavaliers in their season-opener. They were self conscious and tentative. What really did they have to lose?
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“He told us, as a fan, he loved our energy (in past seasons) and he wanted to see more of that,'' Wallace said of the discussion. “I said, ‘Coach, I'm thinking too much. Let me just play, and if I screw up, I'll apologize later.' ''
No apology necessary. Wallace finished with 34 points, nine rebounds and three spectacular blocks, supplying the energy and then some to deliver this victory. He got plenty of aid from center Emeka Okafor (18 points, 13 rebounds) and shooting guard Jason Richardson (23 points).
It helped, of course, that the matchup in the home opener was an undersized Heat team with its own confidence problems. Miami's front line is small enough that Brown was comfortable replacing 6-foot-9 Sean May as a starter with 6-7 Jared Dudley. May, struggling with conditioning problems, was deactivated.
“Their bigs are 6-7 or 6-8, and going with Jared made us quicker and more athletic. It let us run and spread the floor,'' Wallace said.
A team that has been brutal on the boards outrebounded the Heat 41-27, scoring 22 second-chance points and 42 points in the lane. Brown had been urging his players throughout the preseason to launch 3-pointers with more discretion. They took 10 Saturday (to the Heat's 21) and made five of those attempts.
And they got help from unexpected places. Shannon Brown, inactive against the Cavaliers, played nearly 13 minutes and did a fine job guarding Miami superstar Dwyane Wade (5-of-15 for 19 points).
Coach Larry Brown said he was playing a hunch that Shannon Brown's athleticism could throw off Wade. The hunch worked, and the free fall is over for now.
“When you're the only team (without a victory) everyone reminds you of that,'' Larry Brown said. “You show up every day under that, that's tough. That's a lot of pressure!''