Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 121-118 loss to the Houston Rockets (37-25) on Thursday at Toyota Center.
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1. It took a historic performance from James Harden to beat the Heat (27-34).
Miami turned in one of its best offensive performances of the season Thursday, with 118 points on 51.9 percent shooting from the field and 15-of-28 shooting on threes. It marked the Heat’s most efficient game from three-point range (53.6 percent) of the season.
But it didn’t matter because Harden scored 58 points to lead Houston past Miami. It’s tied for the second-most points Harden, who is averaging a league-high 36.6 points per game, has scored this season behind a 61-point effort in a win over the Knicks on Jan. 23.
“He definitely is one of the most unguardable players this game has ever seen,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said of Harden.
Harden’s 58-point night also marked the most points a player has ever scored against the Heat — regular season or playoffs — in a single game. It surpassed Michael Jordan’s 56-point outing in a playoff win over the Heat on April 29, 1992 and Willie Burton’s 53-point performance in a regular-season win over the Heat on Dec. 13, 1994.
Harden’s final stat line looked like this: 58 points on 16-of-32 shooting from the field, 8-of-18 shooting on threes, 18-of-18 shooting from the foul line, seven rebounds, 10 assists and four steals in 44 minutes. The Rockets outscored the Heat by 10 points with Harden on the court.
“It requires a great discipline and it’s something you don’t see every single night, so it’s not something you’re practicing all the time,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of defending Harden without fouling. “And it is tough in terms of you still want to have a presence and a disposition on the ball, so you don’t want to just open up and allow him to score. That’s a fine balance.”
All of that was enough to overcome a strong night for Miami’s offense. It marked just the third time this season the Heat has shot 50 percent or better from both the field and three-point range in the same game, and the first time it’s lost when reaching that threshold. The Heat also did it in a 115-91 win over the Magic on Dec. 23 and a 117-92 win over the Cavaliers on Jan. 2.
Miami doesn’t usually lose this game when shooting that well, but Harden’s night was special.
“That’s probably the disappointing thing,” Spoelstra said. “I see so many things trending in the right direction, and this has been going on for three weeks. That’s why you just have to stay with it until we can get the results that we want more consistently. But guys are disappointed right now in the locker room, but everybody’s objective enough to see there’s some good things happening. It just will require some more perseverance and more in general.”
2. It was another fourth quarter to forget for the Heat.
Miami’s lead grew to as many as 21 points in the third quarter, and it entered the fourth quarter with a 12-point advantage. But the Rockets outscored the Heat 35-20 in the final period to complete the comeback.
Even in a game Miami shot better than 50 percent in, it made just 35.3 percent of its shots in the fourth quarter while also committing six of its 14 turnovers in the frame. Meanwhile, Houston shot 55 percent in the final period behind 17 fourth-quarter points from Harden.
The Heat was upset with how much it fouled the Rockets in the fourth. Miami committed seven fouls and Houston was 10-of-10 from the free-throw line (6 of 6 from Harden and 4 of 4 from Chris Paul) over the final 12 minutes of the game.
“We know what we need to do,” Wade said. “Like tonight, we knew when James Harden drives, don’t reach. And we continue to do it. That’s our season. That’s been our season. We’ve had like 12 fourth-quarter leads and we’ve lost those. A lot of it is the mental errors of the game. … The only way we’re going to change it is if it really hurts. It has to really hurt. If it doesn’t hurt, then it’s not going to change for us.”
These fourth-quarter struggles have turned into a disturbing trend for Miami, which has given up late leads in numerous losses this season. The Heat has been outscored by 72 points in the final period this season, which is the league’s seventh-worst fourth-quarter plus-minus.
The Heat has also been outscored in the fourth quarter in each of its past seven games by a total of 56 points. Miami is 2-5 during this stretch.
“We don’t know,” Justise Winslow said when asked why the Heat can’t close games. “If we knew, we would be getting the job done. When we do figure it out, I’ll get back to you and give you that answer. Part of this right now is us figuring it out. Trying to figure out what it is, who it is, how it is, and that sort of thing. I don’t have the answers. If I did, I think we would have some of these games that we’ve lost. We just got to keep going, watch the tape, see how we can get better. But I don’t have that answer for you.”
3. Kelly Olynyk continues to play his best basketball of the season as a starter. The 27-year-old big man finished Thursday’s loss with 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 shooting on threes, five rebounds and two assists in 33 minutes.
Olynyk also took two charges in a span of a 1:16 in the second quarter. He’s now taken a team-high 10 charges this season.
Since replacing power forward James Johnson in the starting lineup on Feb. 5 against the Trail Blazers, Olynyk has made 10 consecutive starts. He’s averaging 12.7 points on 51.6 percent shooting from the field and 39.5 percent shooting from three-point range, 5.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists during this stretch.
And if you think the Heat is worried about the luxury tax and avoiding Olynyk’s $1 million bonus that kicks in if he plays 1,700 or more regular-season minutes, recent evidence proves otherwise. He’s played an average of 34.7 minutes over the past three games and has logged a total of 1,233 minutes this season. With 21 regular-season games remaining, Olynyk needs to average about 22.2 minutes of playing time the rest of the way to get his bonus. At this recent pace, it’s very possible.
Along with Olynyk, six other Heat players finished with double-digit points against the Rockets.
Goran Dragic recorded 21 points, five rebounds and five assists off the bench in his fourth game back from knee surgery. Winslow ended the night with 19 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.
4. A night after hitting a game-winning shot at the buzzer to lift the Heat over the Warriors, Wade turned in a quieter performance.
Wade finished with 12 points on 6-of-15 shooting, three rebounds and one assist in 26 minutes in Thursday’s loss to the Rockets. He was just 1 of 5 from the field in the fourth quarter.
After the game, Wade exchanged jerseys with his close friend Chris Paul.
“That’s definitely special, man,” Wade said of his moment with Paul. “That’s one of my brothers. I love competing against him. So to not be able to compete no more, it’s tough on all of us. It’s definitely emotional because we love seeing each other do great and we also love playing against each other.”
5. The Heat now returns home, with seven of its next eight games coming at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Even after Thursday’s loss, Miami remains at No. 10 in the Eastern Conference behind No. 9 Charlotte and No. 8 Orlando. The Heat is one game behind the eighth and final playoff spot occupied by the Magic, which defeated the Warriors on Thursday.
Miami is also one game behind the ninth-place Hornets, but Orlando is percentage points ahead of Charlotte for the eighth spot.
Next up for the Heat is a Saturday matchup with the Nets, which sit in sixth place in the East. Miami is four games behind Brooklyn.
One thing to look for over the next few days is an injury update on Derrick Jones Jr., who looked to hurt his right knee during Thursday’s loss. Jones missed eight games over the last few weeks with two right knee bone bruises, but made his return last week.
“We’ll find out. He says he’s feeling better now,” Spoelstra said minutes after Thursday’s game regarding Jones. “But it’s the same knee. He banged knees, so I’m sure it’s pretty tender right now.”