The Miami Heat couldn’t figure out a way to stop Damian Lillard – and they still haven’t figured out how to win on Sundays.
Portland’s All-Star point guard, trying to rally his own team back into the playoff picture, torched the Heat for a season-high 49 points, matching a career-high with nine three-pointers in the process, as the Portland Trail Blazers knocked Miami from its temporary playoff perch 115-104 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“Obviously that was one incredible performance,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Lillard, who was 14 of 21 shooting and made all 12 of his free throws.
“There's less than five players in this league that you have to do something different on your pick and roll coverage. Lillard is obviously one of those guys. To be able to score basically 50 on 21 shots on the second of an early back-to-back just shows you his efficiency. Doing something different schematically, that’s on me. There should have been an adjustment at some point after probably he had 40.”
The Heat, which entered the day seventh in the Eastern Conference, fell to ninth with the loss after Detroit, which also owns a 34-36 record, blew out Phoenix at home Sunday afternoon. The Pistons own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Miami 2-1 with one game to go in the season series on March 28 in Detroit.
Prior to Sunday, the Heat had won 15 of its last 16 games at home since losing to Detroit at home on Jan. 1. Strangely, Miami is now 0-6 on Sundays, the only day of the week the Heat has yet to record a win.
James Johnson led the Heat with 24 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks in 31 minutes off the bench. Tyler Johnson added 14 points, three rebounds and three assists. But it was hardly enough to match Lillard, who has now guided the Blazers (32-37) to wins in eight of their last 10 games.
His 49 points were the second-most allowed by the Heat this season. Boston’s Isaiah Thomas scored 52 points including 29 in the fourth quarter in a Celtics win back on Dec. 30.
When Lillard wasn’t finding the bottom of the net, 7-foot, 280-pound center Jusuf Nurkic was putting in the few shots that didn’t go in. Nurkic had 21 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and helped lead the Blazers’ efforts in route to 26 second-chance points.
“It’s tough when somebody's shooting that well,” said Heat center Hassan Whiteside, who had 16 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in the first half but had just one point, three rebounds and five fouls in the second half.
“We tried to blitz him and it got Nurkic some easy buckets at the end. [Lillard] just got hot man. He got real hot.”
Sunday, the Heat’s recent three-point struggles continued as the team finished 9-of-31 from beyond the arc (29 percent). Goran Dragic was 6-of-22 from the field and 1-of-7 from three-point range and finished with 17 points in 38 minutes. Wayne Ellington was 3-of-10 from beyond the arc and had nine points.
The Heat, which had been shooting 41 percent from three-point range over a 25-game span up until last Sunday, has shot below 31 percent from beyond the arc in three of its last four games.
With Dion Waiters out for the first time since badly spraining his left ankle late in the first half Friday night, Spoelstra started Josh Richardson at shooting guard. Richardson finished 4-of-8 from the field with 10 points and two assists in 33 minutes.
The Heat shot 46.1 percent from the field and collected 18 assists on 41 buckets, but never really got into an offensive flow.
“We definitely missed Dion today,” Whiteside said. “Dion creates so many triggers in that starting lineup and James and Tyler normally come in and back that up. But [Richardson and Ellington] brought it and I'm proud of them guys.”
Miami missed 15 of its 19 three-point attempts in the first half and trailed Portland 52-51 at the break. The Blazers then came out and stretched their lead to 63-55 on a C.J. McCollum three-pointer before the Heat went on a 9-1 run and tied it up at 64 on a Dragic pullup with 6:36 left in the third quarter.
But after that it was all Portland and Lillard.
Spoelstra said he had no issues with the Heat’s offense Sunday.
“I mean how many do we have to score? We have to score 116 now to be able to win?” the coach said. “That's never been our formula. It's never been about the threes. We got good looks. We could never get the appropriate stops. I mean they shot 51 percent and scored 115 points. We don't simply win games like that. We haven't all year. We have to hold teams under 100 [points] and somewhere under 40 percent for us to have a chance. But you had a great player who took his game to another level.”