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The Hornets are challenging conventional wisdom by beating the Heat with depth

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The Hornets' depth has allowed them to make the necessary adjustments to beat the Heat.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Depth is typically considered a regular season luxury, not a postseason necessity. Rotations shorten once the playoffs roll around and star players see their minutes climb, relegating teammates to the deep bench. Having the best player is typically considered a bigger advantage than having the seventh-, eighth- and ninth-best.

The Hornets are proving that there are always exceptions to what we accept as common knowledge. After two losses, they used their superior depth to make the necessary adjustments to take control of a series that at one point seemed to be beyond their grasp.

Going into Game 3, Charlotte was down 2-0 and had lost Nicolas Batum, arguably their best player. Miami's small lineups with Hassan Whiteside at center where killing the Hornets' defense. Charlotte was one step late against a quicker, more athletic opponent that was dominating the paint and raining three-pointers on them. Things were looking dire.

In order to get back in the series, they needed to make a big adjustment and they did. Marvin Williams slid down to small forward while Cody Zeller came off the bench. Charlotte decided to go big with Frank Kaminsky and Al Jefferson at the big men slots. Spencer Hawes started getting more burn, as well, as Charlotte went big more often.

As counterintuitive as it seemed at the time, the move worked perfectly. The new starting lineup allowed the Hornets to regain control over the defensive glass -- a cornerstone of their system -- while the bench units did great on defense. The Heat's field goal percentage at the rim dropped from 78 percent in the first two games to 49 percent in the last three. The outside shots that were falling in the past stopped going in, and that slump doomed Miami.

Heat wins vs. losses

Had the adjustment on the starting lineup helped on defense but hurt on offense, it would have been a lateral move. Fortunately for Charlotte, the bench scoring has remained solid even after the change.

The Hornets have eight players averaging over 20 minutes per game in the playoffs to the Heat's seven. It's not surprising then that they've had a huge edge on bench points. Charlotte's subs are averaging over 33 points per game to Miami 22 and have outscored them in every single matchup except for the blowout loss to start the series. In the pivotal Game 5, the difference was 29 to 13. The edge on assists over five games has been huge, as well, with the Hornets' bench logging 26 to the Heat's 16.

That offensive boost that Charlotte gets from its subs has been a big factor on a series that has featured extremely low scoring for the past four games. The Hornets don't have that second star who can average close to 20 points but they make up for it by having several shot creators on their roster who can take turns running the offense. The Heat, meanwhile, rely too much on Dwyane Wade.

That was painfully obvious in the fourth quarter of Game 5. In his last stint, Wade used 13 of the Heat's 14 offensive possessions, operating almost exclusively out of hand-offs and ball screens. The Hornets knew what was coming, so they sent an extra defender to make him take tough shots or force him to give up the ball.

Wade is good enough that he managed to get six points but a lot of possessions just died in his hands. Some of his passes came late in the shot clock, leaving his teammates no choice but to pull the trigger on a contested jump shot. Even when he found someone open, they couldn't punish the defense.

In the same span, the Hornets had Walker initiate five possessions, Lin three possessions and Batum two possessions, while also running a set play out of a timeout for a Marvin Williams' three-pointer. The Heat couldn't focus all of their efforts on containing just one guy. They had to account for everyone on the court, which stretched their defense thin. The Hornets definitely made tough shots late but they have players that can do that and empower them to be aggressive instead of standing around, waiting for a savior, like Miami does.

Facing elimination and after three losses, a case could be made that it's now the Heat's time to make an adjustment. The problem is there's no obvious move to be made. The big men in their bench are fringe players at this point and Chris Bosh is out for the season. Their two best subs are rookies who have performed admirably but can't be reasonably expected to do better in an even bigger role. Erik Spoelstra will just have to make small tweaks and hope the three-pointers start falling again.

Miami has the best player in the series and a terrific starting lineup that had many thinking they could make a run at the Eastern Conference finals. That remains true, but their lack of depth has been exposed by a Hornets team that might lack the elite individual talent and name recognition of his opponent but simply has more quality NBA players in its roster.

Depth might not typically be a huge advantage in the playoffs but this series is a reminder that it can be when one team has plenty of it while the other has none.