Five takeaways from the Heat’s 98-93 loss against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesar’s Arena:
▪ The Heat somehow had a chance to win late despite horrendous free throw shooting, primarily from Hassan Whiteside, who was 0 for 8.
Miami finished 5 for 19 from the line, an abysmal 26.3 percent.
That was the worst the Heat has ever shot in a game from the line, minimum 15 attempts. The previous franchise worst was 30 percent (6 for 20) in a 2006 playoff loss, also at Detroit.
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“I don’t have an answer for that,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Maybe we should stop working on it. We work on it all the time.”
Miami, which entered 29th in free throw shooting, avoided the NBA record for worst free throw shooting in a game with a minimum of 10 attempts, which the Lakers achieved in a win last January by shooting 2 for 14 (14.3 percent.)
Whiteside’s free throw shooting was worst ever by a Heat player with at least eight attempts. Shaquille O’Neal had held the Heat record, once shooting 1 for 11 in a game against Golden State in 2006.
Despite working diligently on free throws after practice, Whiteside is last in the league in free throw shooting at 42.8 percent, having made just 66 of 154. He has changed his free throw mechanics back to a jump-shot style in recent weeks but with little to show for it.
Whiteside, who looked glum sitting in front of his locker afterward, said he will stick with the same mechanics.
“I don’t know; I don’t know,” he said of his free throw woes. “I come in. I don’t leave the gym until I make 10 in a row on five baskets. I shoot hundreds of free throws. Just didn’t want to go in. I can’t tell you what’s going on. I’ve never been through this in my life.”
Whiteside said one factor is that he’s going to the line after hard fouls.
“I can’t duplicate the way I get fouled,” he said. “I get hard fouled every time I get sent to the free throw line. I’m going to stick with it, keep shooting a couple hundred, couple thousand, whatever it takes.”
Spoelstra seemed empathic toward Whiteside afterward, suggesting no need to start over with his technique.
“His technique is good,” he said. “He really works at it. I really commend him for that, for looking for solutions. He’ll get it. It’s not the first time he went through something like that.”
Dwyane Wade said Whiteside’s free-throw issue “right now is a mental thing.”
Spoelstra said he kept Whiteside on the bench in the fourth quarter not because of free throw shooting but “because of the momentum of the game; [Detroit] went small” with Bam Adebayo deemed the better option.
Overall, “we have to figure out a way to fix” the team’s free throw deficiencies, Wade said.
▪ Wade made the most of his final appearance in Detroit, but was angry about not getting a foul call on his late missed three-point attempt.
The retiring Heat star received a loud ovation – with many standing – when he entered the game for the first time midway through the first quarter.
And he was on the floor when the Heat completed a rally from 16 down to pull ahead in the third quarter, then scored eight in the fourth.
Wade shot an efficient 10 for 14, closing with 20 points, eight assists and four rebounds. But he missed the contested three with 6.3 seconds left and the Heat down three.
“It looked like he got clipped,” Spoelstra said. “He was moving one direction very fast and it looked like [Reggie] Bullock was underneath him. You have to let a shooter land. I didn’t see a replay on that but from my vantage point that looked like a play that could have sent him to the line. We left it to chance by making it a need three situation right there instead of a need two.”
Wade’s take on that play: “It’s tough, trying to get a good look. Thought we had a great pass to Tyler [Johnson]. He dribbled through and [we’re] trying to get to an open spot. I feel I didn’t get a clean land on my shot. That’s all you ask for to go up and come down. I felt like I didn’t get a good one, so I was very angry with that. Besides that, I thought we got as good a look as we can on that possession.”
▪ With Josh Richardson sidelined with illness, the Heat tried its 17th starting lineup in 43 games and Tyler Johnson played well as a fill-in starter.
The starting group of Whiteside, James Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Justise Winslow and Tyler Johnson had played only two minutes together all season before Friday and shot 0 for 3 in those minutes.
They opened Friday’s game down 10-4, with Whiteside forced to the bench with his second foul soon after, just 4:32 into the game.
But that quintet began the third quarter with far better results, perhaps in part because of the absence of league leading rebounder Andre Drummond, who left for good seven minutes into the game with a nasal injury.
That first group helped close a 53-39 halftime deficit to 61-57 (an 18-8 run) before Miami made its first substitution of the third quarter.
Tyler Johnson gave the Heat a big lift, scoring 11 of his 16 points in the third quarter, when Miami outscored the Pistons 30 to 12.
“He’s the beneficiary of ball and player movement,” Spoelstra said. “When the ball is not moving, players aren’t moving, and the ball is not finding his side of the floor, he can’t be effective. He was the beneficiary of those first few positions when the ball was flying all over the place.”
▪ The Heat continues to underachieve against teams below them in the standings.
Miami (21-22) entered sixth in the East, with nine teams below them in the standings. But against the six teams directly below them in the standings, Miami is 5-10 — 1-1 against Brooklyn, 0-2 against Charlotte, 1-1 vs. Detroit, 1-2 vs. Orlando, 2-1 against Washington and 0-3 against Atlanta.
That’s unacceptable against a group of teams that the Heat expects to be better than.
“It should be like that every night,” Winslow said. “Obviously, guys are going to get a little more up for teams at the top of each conference. We’ve got to figure out ways as professionals to come in every day and come in like professionals and be ready, be focused, have that urgency from the jump.
“Playing the Pistons tonight is not the biggest game, it’s not the weekend, it’s just another game. We have to do better as professionals being locked in.”
The Heat ended the night in seventh place, a game behind No. 6 Brooklyn, which rallied to beat Orlando. The Heat is just one-half game ahead of No. 8 Charlotte and 1.5 games ahead of No. 9 Detroit.
▪ Dion Waiters’ minutes didn’t increase in the wake of being fined for venting about his lack of playing time.
With Richardson out, Waiters was the third Heat player to enter the game, after Bam Adebayo and Dwyane Wade. He scored two points in nearly nine first half minutes, his basket coming on a nifty coast to coast layup. But he didn’t play in the second half and his overall numbers were modest: one for three shooting, an assist, a block and a turnover.
Waiters is shooting just 15 for 41 from the field (36.6 percent) and 7 for 24 on three pointers (29.2 percent) and 0 for 4 on free throws in six appearances since returning from ankle surgery.