The deficit already was in double digits midway through the fourth quarter when Hassan Whiteside walked to the bench with shoulders slumped during a timeout, as teammates Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson discussed a defensive assignment gone bad.
Increasingly, that has become the look of the Miami Heat, a middling team lacking a winning edge.
Fifty-five seconds later, Erik Spoelstra was forced to call another timeout.
So make it six losses in the last nine games, this time 111-99 Wednesday night to the Los Angeles Clippers team that lost in Dallas 20 hours earlier, the Heat now two games under. 500 at home as well as two games under .500 in the standings.
“They took control,” Spoelstra said of the Clippers. “And then we had breakdown after breakdown defensively.”
Coming off a 1-3 trip and faced with an impending two-game swing back into the frigid north, this was a night that was supposed to offer refuge.
But for a team without a true leading man, there was no ample counter to the 31 points of Clippers forward Tobias Harris, nor the late force of Clippers backup center Montrezl Harrell.
So even with a new lineup that had Tyler Johnson in and Rodney McGruder out, the sustained mediocrity was sustained.
“It seems every possession somebody was unable to sustain what they were supposed to do,” Spoelstra said.
After it was tied 54-54 at halftime, the Heat went into the fourth quarter down 77-72. The Clippers then moved to the game’s first double-digit lead, at 84-74, with 9:07 to play, eventually stretching the edge to 18 and avenging a previous loss to the Heat in December at Staples Center.
Whiteside closed with 22 points and 16 rebounds for the Heat.
Five degrees of Heat from Wednesday’s game:
1. Rotation reset: As had been anticipated amid the recent run of uneven play, Spoelstra shook up the starting lineup, and therefore the rotation.
Having started each of his previous 44 appearances (he missed one game due to illness), McGruder was shuffled out of the rotation.
“The toughest part about it is I don’t want anybody to view this as Rodney is any part of the reason for it,” Spoelstra said.
There almost was a more dramatic shift, with James Johnson missing the morning shootaround due to a migraine. Instead James Johnson again opened at power forward, still off with his shot.
What didn’t change was Kelly Olynyk and Wayne Ellington remaining outside the rotation.
“It’s too early to tell whether this change will be good, but at least the start of the game was better,” Spoelstra said.
2. Real deal: Amid the early-season conjecture regarding what teams were willing to offer the Minnesota Timberwolves for Jimmy Butler, the Clippers held the line with Harris.
It was easy to see why during the first half, with Harris scoring 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, feasting in the Clippers’ pick-and-roll.
Harris was coming off a 1-of-9, 9-point performance in the Clippers’ Tuesday loss in Dallas.
“He was just taking advantage of what we were willing to give him,” Winslow said of Harris, who closed 12 of 19 from the field.
3. End game: Having missed his previous 13 free throws over the previous three games, Whiteside got to the foul line for the first time midway through the third period.
He missed the first attempt off the back iron, to make it 14 consecutive misses, but then converted the second, to end the drought.
He then got back to the line moments later and missed both attempts, so long with the second shot that it looked like a bank attempt.
He closed 2 of 5 from the line.
4. Go-to why?: The difference in this one, as it has been in many Heat games, is the opposition having a go-to guy and the Heat relying on ensemble contributions.
For most of the game, it was 37-year-old Wade attempting to carry the offense, with Richardson off with his shot on a 5-of-15 night from the field.
Waiters could eventually percolate into that, but this hardly was a step in that direction.
Tyler Johnson was the better player Wednesday, but getting Waiters activated could (should?) be the greater priority. Waiters shot 3 of 9.
5. Foul trouble: A pair of third-quarter offensive fouls forced Winslow to the bench with his fourth foul just 5:20 into the second half. All four of the fouls came in that 5:20.
Winslow was 4 of 8 from the field, with three assists to that stage.
“It was just frustrating,” Winslow said. “I was angry I had to go to the bench.”
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