Reaction and a few notes from the Heat's 89-85 Game 4 loss in Charlotte:
• Once again, the Hornets' guards outplayed the Heat's. While Kemba Walker scored 34 and Jeremy Lin 21 and often penetrated without deterrence, Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic were combining for just 24 points (12 apiece) and nine turnovers (five by Dragic).
Dragic struggled defensively and sat most of the fourth after picking up his fifth foul early in the quarter. Wade had 10 assists and seven rebounds but shot 4 for 11. Josh Richardson stayed in the game late, instead of Dragic, but against struggled with his shot (1 for 7) and couldn't stop Walker, despite his usual maximum defensive effort.
Once again, there were too many Heat turnovers (17) and just 39.5 percent shooting.
Hassan Whiteside had one of his least impactful games in recent weeks, with 8 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks (with four fouls) in just 25 minutes.
"The most activity he showed were the last three, four minutes of the game," Erik Spoelstra said of Whiteside, who dealt with a bruised thigh.
Spoelstra played Udonis Haslem ahead of Whiteside for a large chunk of the fourth, partly because Whiteside had four fouls but more so because the unit with Haslem played well for a time.
Luol Deng (15 points) shot just 4 for 14.
The Hornets' starting frontcourt shot just 5 for 22, but it didn't matter because their guards were so good and the Heat was again mistake-prone and shot errantly. And the Heat allowed two very costly Hornets offensive rebounds in the final minute.
Charlotte had just nine turnovers and 12 combined over the two games.
• Spoelstra, afterward: "It felt more throwback, old school Eastern Conference basketball. Both teams shooting under 40 percent. Physical. It was who could endure and make the last plays.... This is ultimately what you can expect. Two teams with the same records. Nobody said this was going to be easy... Scored 85 points, but sometimes that's the way it goes in the playoffs. We put ourselves in a position to make it a [one] possession game down the stretch.
"They made more plays down the stretch. You had two committed defensive teams that are going to make it tough on each other. Very equally matched teams. You have to find a way to overcome great players and great plays. Even as great a night as [Walker] had, we still had an opportunity at the end. They're being aggressive, really making our pick and roll defense have to contain them and be able to do it without fouling. We probably fouled more in these four games than we have in the last four weeks. But you have to credit them. They're aggressive."
• Wade, afterward: We had two bad moments in the third quarter, a really bad one in Game 3, a really bad one here but were able to go on a 17-1 run. [That Charlotte run] was just awful. It's tough to overcome that on the road.
"Coming out Miami, we were going to have to play different on the road to win the game. We weren't going to score 119 points on the road. We have to figure out other ways to win. We cut it to within one three times, where you believe you had put yourself in position to win but didn't make the final plays to do that..... Kemba, we were fortunate the first few games Kemba didn't shoot as well. He's a handful on the pick and rolls.
"There's only so much you can do with that little guy. He's crafty. Our guards are fighting. We're trying to tire him out. He got it going. We still defensively held them to 40 percent. At the end, he hit a couple of big jump shots. Maybe we'll make a few adjustments. We have got to do a little better job on pick and rolls with him and Lin. But they're good players. We did enough. We just didn't do enough to win the ball game....
"You always are trying to find a spark within a series. Coach gave [Udonis Haslem and Gerald Green and Dorell Wright] a few minutes. It was good to see those guys get in there. Hopefully as the series goes on, they'll get more opportunities. I like what those guys can bring to a team."
• Hornets coach Steve Clifford, afterward: "We have to find a way to carry this defense on the road. They have us on our heels offensively because the way they're playing is so different for our team.... Still, we are doing what we need to do, playing aggressively in driving the ball. But they're making us play differently than we've had to play most of the year.
"They get in passing lanes, which is uncommon for NBA teams. It had an impact on us. You have to be able to drive the ball there.... These guys thought we were better than people think we are."
• Former Wolves coach Sam Mitchell, on NBA TV, said the Hornets are outmaneuvering the Heat because "they kept putting Miami Heat bigs in pick and roll. They know they can get downhill on Miami centers." He called for Spoelstra to make an adjustment.
• Hassan Whiteside, via our Ethan Skolnick (who's in Charlotte): "It's the flop-offs, man. I thought the playoffs were physical. This ain't physical.... We gotta watch out for [Lin], because he likes to throw his arms into people."
And Whiteside (via the Charlotte Observer's Jason Jones) said of Cody Zeller: "Just don't get too physical with him or he'll fall over. I gotta do a better job against Cody floppin."
MAJOR TV NEWS
Mike Tirico is leaving his position as one of the signature voices of ESPN, including the marquee play-by-play job on Monday Night Football, to join NBC Sports, industry sources confirmed to me today.
The story was first reported by Sports Business Journal's John Ourand.
Longtime network announcer Sean McDonough, who has called college football for ESPN and ABC the past 16 years, is expected to replace Tirico alongside Jon Gruden on ESPN's Monday Night Football package, according to industry sources.
McDonough, 53, has previous NFL experience at CBS.
Tirico had been with ESPN since 1991 and the network's Monday Night Football voice since 2006, in addition to serving as the No. 2 NBA play-by-play announcer behind Mike Breen and handling other appealing assignments.
So why would Tirico, 49, leave one of the best jobs in sports television?
Money, quality of assignments and the potential to become one of the faces of NBC Sports very likely factored in.
At NBC, Tirico will work the nine Thursday night games that the network will produce in the wake of the NFL's decision to split the Thursday package between CBS and NBC. Five of those will air on NBC and NFL Network; the other four will air only on NFL Net.
At the NFL owners meetings in Boca Raton last month, NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus told me that Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, who call the network's Sunday night games, "were both concerned about the added workload. It's a full time job to do one game a week. It's not just adding a three-hour broadcast. It's a substantial amount of work. Nobody raised their hand and said I really want to do double the workload. They were all team players and understand the importance to the company."
Lazarus said one of the two announcers had more concerns than the other --- he declined to say which one --- but it apparently was Michaels, who's 71. Collinsworth will do the entire Thursday and Sunday packages.
Tirico is also positioned to succeed Michaels when Michaels eventually retires, should NBC retain NFL rights longterm.
It would not be surprising if Tirico assumes a major role on the network's golf and Olympic coverage. And he's also positioned to someday possibly succeed Bob Costas, 64, as the network's prime-time Olympic host whenever Costas retires or tires of the gig.
Tirico will remain with ESPN through the conclusion of the NBA playoffs and could call a Heat game on Sunday if the Hornets series goes to a seventh game or if a Heat second-round series begins that day.
NBC and ESPN declined comment. An announcement is pending.
DOLPHINS DRAFT TALK
With just three shopping days left before Thursday's NFL draft, here's what some draft analysts say Miami should do at No. 13:
• ESPN's Mel Kiper: Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee. “[Colleague Todd] McShay will give me grief for taking Lee this high, but I like his upside and think he fits in early on as an outside linebacker who can get into gaps as a blitzer, cover in space and be a disruptive force on the defensive side of the ball. There are going to be growing pains, but I'm betting on Lee.
“[There’s] a clear need at cornerback and [Baylor's Xavien Howard] is a fit in the second round [at No. 42]. He's not coming in to fix the cornerback situation overnight, but that doesn't happen even with the top corners in the draft, and the physical tools are there to develop.”
• ESPN's Todd McShay: Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson. “Mario Williams and Cameron Wake are both getting up there in age, so the Dolphins need to find a way to infuse some youth along their D-line in this draft. The more I watch Lawson, the more I love his game. It wasn't a fluke that he led the nation with 25.5 tackles for loss; he plays with a combination of quickness, power, technique and relentlessness that is hard to stifle.”
• NBC and SI's Peter King: Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple. "The guy Miami would love is Ezekiel Elliott [as I have reported here], but moving up for him would be extremely hard if he’s coveted by Dallas. Still, Apple’s an opportunistic pick, a pro-ready cornerback on a defense desperate for one, after starting for two years on an Ohio State defense that prepares its players so well for the NFL. Remember one thing, though, about the Dolphins: Mike Tannenbaum always is ready to move on draft day, so I don’t think it’s impossible that he could find a way to move up for Elliott, if Dallas passes on him."
• NFL.com's Charley Casserly: Lawson. "They continue to build their defensive line in an effort to beat New England."
• GM Junior’s Russ Lande: “Probably [Clemson corner] Mackensie Alexander would be my first choice. Sure, you would like to see more picks [he had none in college], but I’ll trade the picks for pass breakups.”
• NFL Net’s Charles Davis: Elliott, if there. If not, “and Hargreaves is still there, Hargreaves would be my highest-rated corner. It’s Hargreaves, Eli Apple, William Jackson, Alexander in that order. Hargreaves has everything.”
• CBS’ Rob Rang: Ohio State LB Lee, an undersized former quarterback and former safety “with outstanding athleticism, including closing speed and explosiveness as a hitter. Miami’s linebackers struggled to make big plays a year ago. Lee remains a bit raw after leaving Ohio State as just a redshirt sophomore but his talent is obvious.”
• NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein: Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd. “Cameron Wake will be a 35-year-old free agent next season, and Mario Williams appears to be a band-aid addition to the defensive front. In other words, defensive end could definitely be in play here despite the Dolphins' need at cornerback.”
For Mike Mayock's and Cris Collinsworth's advice to the Dolphins, please click here.
And for more draft nuggets on players the Dolphins have shown interest in, please click a different link here.
FOOTBALL OR BASKETBALL TOWN
We don't want to re-ignite the debate among a few of my media colleagues in town (you know who you are), but there are two entirely different ways of looking at the question of whether this is a football town or basketball town. And each side has compelling ammunition based on what information it chooses to use in closing arguments, so to speak.
Sports Business Daily reported today that the Heat's average rating on its regional rights-holder this season (Fox Sports Sun) was fifth-best among NBA markets, at a 4.5.
That trailed only Golden State (9.76), Cleveland (9.31), San Antonio (8.71), Oklahoma City (6.7). That means, on average, 4.5 percent of Miami-Ft. Lauderdale market homes with TV sets watched each Heat game, on average, on Sun Sports this season.
One ratings point in our market equals 16,600 homes.
Whereas Heat local ratings have consistently ranked in the top five over the past several years, Dolphins ratings in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale TV market have consistently ranked among the NFL's worst.
This past season, 15.8 percent of local homes watched a Dolphins game, on average. That was the worst among single-market NFL teams (thus excluding New York and the Bay Area, where loyalties are divided) and much worse than the majority of NFL markets.
Those who say this is a basketball town can say our NBA ratings for our home team are higher than most NBA markets, while our Dolphins ratings are worse.
Those who say this is a football town can say:
1) Dolphins games draw more than three times as many local viewers as Heat games. (The "basketball town" proponents will immediately note that the NFL has much less inventory, meaning regular-season games are more important, and that all the Dolphins games were on free TV, unlike Heat games. Both are fair points.)
2) Even Heat first-round playoff games get nowhere near the audience size of regular-season Dolphins games.
The Heat ratings for the first three playoff games against Charlotte (combining the TNT and Sun audiences for Games 1 and 3) were a 10.4, 8.6 and 8.3. That means more than 89,640 more homes (and even more people) watched Dolphins games, on average, than the highest-rated Heat playoff game to date this season. That's obviously a big number.
All food for thought and why this "basketball town/football town" argument is completely dependent on which evidence you choose to use.
And for those wondering about the Panthers: After averaging just a 0.25 rating on Fox Sports Florida in the regular season, they averaged a 1.9 rating for playoff games (32,000 homes, on average).
Incidentally, kudos to Fox Sports Sun and Fox Sports Florida for outstanding coverage throughout the Panthers playoff series. Play-by-play man Steve Goldstein is excellent, not only in conveying excitement but also in his diligence in quickly identifying players, penalties and other pertinent information.
Twitter: @flasportbuzz... Please check back later for Heat post game fodder. And please click here if you missed our weekend post filled with UM football nuggets and other snacks.