The Heat is the first NBA team in at least 20 years to score the first points in each of its first 10 games of the season. Regrettably, Miami has been outscored after that point in eight of those 10 games, including a 93-90 loss to Atlanta on Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
And so, less than a month into the post-Dwyane Wade era, the Heat (2-8) already has a six-game losing streak, its longest since the final two months of the 2007-2008 season, when Miami finished 15-67.
The Heat led by eight early, then rallied from 10 down in the third to take a two-point lead but never led in the fourth and was ultimately undone by 23 turnovers and poor shooting, closing at 40 percent from the field, which was in character for a team that entered with the league’s third-worst shooting percentage.
Dion Waiters missed a 25-footer that could have tied the game just before the buzzer.
Afterward, Erik Spoelstra struck a positive tone with his team and with the media.
“We’ve gone toe-to-toe two nights in a row [against San Antonio and Atlanta] to basically the end, and this is where you have to have great mental resolve to stay the course,” Spoelstra said. “We’re developing some collective toughness and grit right now. I know it’s painful right now for the guys. But we see progress.
“It’s so easy to get wrapped up with what the record is … and we’re here for the result. Ultimately, when you’re trying to build a team, you’re trying to build a foundation.”
Hassan Whiteside snagged 25 rebounds, equaling a career high, and remains the NBA’s only player with double figure rebound totals in every game. He persevered through a 2-for-10 start, finishing with 19 points on 6-for-15 shooting.
“It really means something to him right now,” Spoelstra said. “He’s feeling the responsibility of inspiring and helping a team win.”
In the fourth quarter, Whiteside didn’t need to contend with Dwight Howard, who had 11 points and 11 rebounds before leaving, for good, in the third with a left quad contusion.
Whiteside conceded “it’s tough” that his big individual numbers aren’t translating into wins, but vowed: “We are going to get it right. I believe in these guys. We haven’t played any bad teams. We’re not listening to outside people. People saying stuff, but we’re not listening to that.”
The Heat played without point guard Goran Dragic (ankle) and forward Justise Winslow (wrist).
Rodney McGruder (eight points, 4-for-11 shooting) started in Winslow’s place and said finding out that he was making his first NBA start was a “dream.” Josh Richardson, starting in place of Dragic, scored 19 and continues to round into form since returning from a knee injury.
“We thought we could play smaller on the wings,” Spoelstra said of the decision to start the 6-5 McGruder at small forward. “Rodney is a winner. He plays 36 minutes chasing all the guards around. J-Rich — the more he plays, the more comfortable he looks. He said he felt fine with those minutes. I didn’t intend to play him  minutes.”
Waiters, off a 27-point game Monday in San Antonio, started strong, but then faltered badly, committing five turnovers, shooting two airballs and finishing 5 for 18 on an 11-point night.
Despite repeated forays to the basket, Waiters didn’t attempt a free throw for the second consecutive game, and his exasperation was evident afterward.
“It’s frustrating when I attack as much as I do [and don’t get to the free-throw line],” he said. “They need to address it. My guy can’t stop me going to the basket. I have his hand in my chest every time. You saw certain calls the other way that were just crazy. It’s very frustrating.”
He said he must do a better job of not letting the lack of calls affect him.
The Heat got 27 points from its bench, but only two players accounted for those points.
James Johnson scored 13 but had four turnovers; Tyler Johnson scored 14 but had six turnovers. No other Heat bench player scored; Josh McRoberts shot 0 for 3 and is now 2 for 13 this season.
Atlanta (8-2) got 18 points from Schroder and 15 apiece from Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr.
Here’s how the decisive moments unfolded: Whiteside missed over Millsap with 1:25 left, leaving Atlanta ahead by three, but Millsap missed at the other end. Tyler Johnson missed a layup, but the Hawks then committed a 24-second violation.
Waiters missed a layup, but McGruder got the rebound and his follow shot cut the Hawks’ lead to 89-88 with 13.6 seconds left. After two Kent Bazemore free throws, Josh Richardson dunked with 8.4 seconds left, pulling Miami to within one.
Dennis Schroder hit two free throws with 5.9 seconds left, and with the Heat not having any timeouts left, Waiters dribbled downcourt and launched his errant three with 1.4 seconds left. The Heat rebounded as time expired.
“We had to burn all of our timeouts to extend it,” Spoelstra said. “We had some opportunities before [the Waiters miss at the end]. We had some [possessions] with some really tough turnovers. [But] guys were playing confidently, making plays.”
Ultimately, though, it wasn’t enough to keep the Heat from falling into 14th place in the 15-team Eastern Conference.