It’s now to this: Good teams rest their starters against the Heat.
In the insult of all insults for a team that still fashions itself competitive, the Heat learned before tipoff on Saturday night that the first-place Hawks would be resting three starters and a reserve. As it turns out, the Heat is not competitive — not right now anyway.
With Atlanta starters Al Horford, Jeff Teague and DeMarre Carroll taking a break on the second night of a back-to-back, the Hawks still managed to defeat the Heat 93-91 at AmericanAirlines Arena. The loss spoiled another impressive game by Heat center Hassan Whiteside, who tied his season and career high with 24 rebounds.
Whiteside was the only positive for the Heat (25-33) on this night, though. The Heat was seventh in the Eastern Conference entering the game, but perhaps not for long. A logjam of teams are just behind Miami in the standings.
Dwyane Wade led the Heat with 22 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, and fought until the last possession of the game. It just wasn’t enough, and Wade bristled at a question after the game about losing to the short-handed Hawks.
“Without three starters?” Wade asked rhetorically. “You seen what we’ve been without? I’m not worried about nobody being without. It’s just tough losing games period, but we’re going to keep fighting. … They got a system that they can just plug guys into, and they have confidence in their system.”
As for the Heat’s system, it’s a work in progress with 24 games left in the regular season. The Heat scored just 33 points in the first half. It was difficult to analyze even for the team’s coach. What exactly went wrong?
“I don’t necessarily know, but we made a lot of mistakes,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The turnovers made things really difficult for us.”
The Heat committed 23 turnovers, which the short-handed Hawks converted into 31 easy points. Mario Chalmers had 16 off the bench and Whiteside had 14 points to go along with his 24 rebounds.
The Heat is 10-17 at home and 0-3 against the Hawks (47-12), which is running away with the East and already resting their starters in anticipation of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Heat started a player on a 10-day contract, and he attempted 16 shots. Henry Walker made just three of those shots.
“All 16 of those felt like they were going in. I’m not even going to lie to you,” said Walker, who had 10 points. “But there are days like that. Some days where you make them and some days when you miss them, but I don’t worry about that.”
“I would worry if I hesitated and didn’t take those shots…but I got nothing to lose. I shoot a thousand jumpers every day. I have faith in my jumper. They were good looks. I just missed them.”
The Heat scored 38 points in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough.
The Hawks led by 18 points early in the third quarter, and the Heat rallied to make it game. Led by Wade and Luol Deng, the Heat cut the Hawks’ lead to five points with 4:49 left. The excitement was short-lived.
Hawks forward Kent Bazemore stepped in front of an attempted outlet pass by Whiteside and initiated a fastbreak for the Hawks that ended with Paul Millsap draining a three-pointer from the opposite corner. The shot put the Hawks ahead by 10 points, and the Heat never seriously threatened the lead again. Bazemore’s three-pointer with a minute left put the game out of reach.
Heat forward Michal Beasley, who signed a 10-day contract on Thursday, had his moments in his home debut, including a highlight reel dunk in the third quarter. So overcome by the moment, Beasley celebrated the basket a little too much and received a technical foul. Asked if he was playing with too much emotion, Beasley replied, “In Beas’ world that’s not enough.”
Beasley finished with nine points, going 4 of 12 from the field in 26 minutes.
▪ Goran Dragic played through a sore back after being hit in the first half. He finished with six points and was unavailable after the game.
▪ It was a late-arriving crowd due to the flooding and traffic snarls, but Heat fans had the arena full by the second half.
▪ The arena had moments of silence for Earl Lloyd and Anthony Mason before the game. Lloyd, the first African-American to play in an NBA game, died on Thursday. He was 86. Mason passed away on Saturday after suffering from heart disease. He was 48.