Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 124-121 loss to the Phoenix Suns (12-50) on Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
1. This was a loss the Heat (26-33) won’t easily forget, and one it really couldn’t afford.
In the middle of a race for one of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spots, Monday’s game against the Suns was one the Heat needed to take advantage of. Phoenix, which owns the league’s worst record, entered on a 17-game losing skid and had not won a road game since Dec. 26.
With a tough back-to-back set up next for Miami that begins against the two-time defending NBA champion Warriors on Wednesday and ends with a matchup against the high-powered Rockets on Thursday, Monday’s game against the struggling Suns seemed like the perfect spot for the Heat to earn a much-needed win.
Instead, Miami has now lost three straight and has dropped nine of its last 11 games. Monday’s defeat marked the Heat’s sixth consecutive home loss, with its last win at AmericanAirlines Arena coming on Jan. 12 against the Grizzlies.
“I think we have a very resilient group,” coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked how the Heat will bounce back from Monday’s defeat. “That’s the character and make-up of the men in that locker room. Secondly, I think we have some experience from our staff, our culture and two Miami Heat lifetime players that have been through everything. We’ll be able to keep the guys’ spirits up and make sure that we’re focusing on just getting ready for the next game. “
How did the Heat fall to the Suns?
Miami actually never trailed through the first three quarters, but the Suns began the fourth on a 20-9 run to take an eight-point lead with 7:10 to play. From there, Phoenix played like the team that had nothing to lose and Miami played like the team that was trying to avoid one of its worst losses of the season in the middle of a playoff race.
After Kelly Olynyk hit a jump shot to put the Heat ahead by one with 18.9 seconds to play, Josh Richardson fouled Phoenix’s Devin Booker on the inbounds pass with 17.3 seconds on the clock. The foul proved to be very costly with Booker making both free throws, which ended up being game-winning free throws, to give the Suns a one-point edge that would stand.
“I trust our defenders and I trust J-Rich and his decision making in those kinds of moments,” Spoelstra said when asked about Richardson’s gamble that resulted in an untimely foul. “I think he thought he had a play like in Golden State. I think he thought he had the pick and then the ball was delivered a little bit differently and Booker stopped. It’s just one of those bang-bang plays. It’s so much easier from any one of our vantage points to say ‘What are you doing?’ But we’ve seen him make those deflections for a big-time, game-winning steal.”
When asked about the play, Richardson said: “The game was lost on more than one play.”
Miami had another chance to win the game, but Dwyane Wade missed a 16-foot turnaround jump shot and Bam Adebayo couldn’t convert on the tip in with 2.1 seconds to play. Spoelstra was pleased with Wade’s shot, calling it “a clean look,” and is still unsure how Adebayo’s tip-in didn’t go in.
“I’ll watch that probably a hundred times tonight,” he said of Adebayo’s missed opportunity. “I don’t know how that thing did not go down.”
The result was another wasted opportunity for the Heat. Miami’s next three games (Wednesday vs. Warriors, Thursday at Rockets and Saturday vs. Nets) come against winning teams.
“I know I sound like I’ve been saying this for a while, but there is a lot of good things going on with this basketball team,” Spoelstra said. “We just have to keep on forging, persevere, and not take any steps back from these unfortunate results because eventually you get your breakthrough. I know there’s not a tremendous amount of time in the season, but there are some good things. It’s too bad because the guys are gaining confidence, particularly offensively in these clutch situations.”
2. The Heat’s offensive numbers haven’t been pretty this season, but its recent struggles stem from defensive lapses.
Miami owns the league’s seventh-best defensive rating for the season (allowing 107.2 points per 100 possessions). But during its 2-9 11-game stretch, it ranks 15th in that category (allowing 110.9 points per 100 possessions since Jan. 30).
Those defensive miscues popped up again during Monday’s loss, with Phoenix scoring 72 points on 61.9 percent shooting in the second half. The Suns also made 8 of 14 threes over the final two quarters.
With Miami’s offense among the league’s worst (25th in offensive rating, 25th in team shooting percentage and 24th in turnovers), it can’t win most nights if its defense isn’t sharp.
It wasn’t sharp Monday, as the Suns shot 50.6 percent for the game. The Heat is 0-11 this season when its opponent shoots 50 percent or better.
“We got to find a win and it has to be on the defensive end, instead of putting so much pressure on the offensive end,” Wade said. “That’s where we’ve lost a lot of games this year, where normally that’s where we win games. Just getting that stop, getting that rebound that we haven’t been able to get.”
3. There’s still some rust in Goran Dragic’s game, as expected.
In his second game back after missing 31 consecutive games because of right knee surgery, Dragic finished with 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting, including 0 of 3 from three-point range, and four assists in 22:38 of action. The 32-year-old point guard played as a reserve again, as Spoelstra continues to work him back slowly.
Dragic has averaged seven points on 38.9 percent shooting and two assists in 19.3 minutes in two games since returning from injury.
One interesting observation: Spoelstra played a lineup that included guards Dion Waiters, Wade and Dragic against the Suns. This trio had never played together before Monday. Whether it was a product of having a shorthanded roster or it’s a look Spoelstra wants to further explore remains to be seen.
4. With the Heat down to 11 available players, rookie two-way contract player Duncan Robinson made his first NBA start. It marked Miami’s 22nd starting lineup of the season.
Why did Robinson start, when he had logged just 49 minutes of playing time entering Monday’s game? James Johnson (slight AC sprain in left shoulder), Derrick Jones Jr. (stomach illness), Rodney McGruder (bruised right knee) and Justise Winslow (left knee soreness) were all out. Plus, coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t want to start Dragic or Wade because Dragic was playing in just his second game since returning from injury and Wade has found a niche for himself as the Heat’s sixth man.
Miami’s other available options included Ryan Anderson, Udonis Haslem, Emanuel Terry and Bam Adebayo. Considering all four are big men and Miami was looking to replace one of the perimeter spots in the starting lineup, Spoelstra was left with Robinson.
Robinson, who is known for his three-point shooting, finished with five points on 2-of-6 shooting from the field and 1-of-5 shooting from behind the arc in 22 minutes.
Even Ryan Anderson, who was acquired in the trade that sent Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington to the Suns, played. Anderson ended the night with three points in seven minutes.
By the way, Johnson finished with 18 points and five assists in his return to Miami.
Haslem and Terry were the only available Heat players who did not play against the Suns.
5. Even after Monday’s painful loss, the Heat is No. 10 in the Eastern Conference.
Miami began the night in 10th place and 1.5 games behind the eighth and final playoff spot occupied by the Hornets. And Miami ended the night in that same position.
The Heat is still No. 10 in the East and 1.5 games behind the No. 8 Hornets.
But Miami lost ground in the standings with other teams. The Heat is now one game behind No. 9 Orlando and three games behind No. 7 Detroit.
“We still have a lot of basketball left and we’re right there,” Wade said. “One thing goes different, it’s a different ball game.”
With 23 games remaining in Miami’s regular season, the time to make a move is now. But FiveThirtyEight.com’s playoff prediction system doesn’t give the Heat much of a chance to make the playoffs, as it has Miami with a 13 percent chance of earning a postseason berth.
“Obviously, there will be a lot of noise and people speculating and people coming up with conclusions. Look, I’ve been part of a staff and a team that was totally down and out,” Spoelstra said, referring to Wade’s rookie season in 2003-04 when the Heat went from 25-36 to end the regular season with a 42-40 record.
“And storming back, I think we made up five games within two-and-a-half weeks or something like that, eventually to get a home court. Home court is not going to happen, but we’ve seen that. We’ve had some experience. We’ll come in tomorrow. Nobody is going to feel sorry for themselves. We’ll get to work and learn from this.”