Twice this week, the Heat had a chance to become the first team in NBA history to climb back to .500 after falling as many as 19 games below .500. And twice Miami failed, undone by an opposing star.
The Heat stumbled badly offensively after the first quarter and couldn’t slow DeMar DeRozan, who scored 40 in Toronto’s 101-84 win on Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Raptors, playing without the injured Kyle Lowry and the suspended Serge Ibaka, overcame an early 15-point hole and unleashed an 18-4 run after Hassan Whiteside left with his fourth foul with 3:45 left in the third.
By the time Whiteside returned, the Raptors led 81-71 with 8:50 left in the game. That margin grew to 17 two minutes later and Miami never drew closer than 11.
Whiteside, playing with a bandage over his lacerated right hand, was effective, finishing with 16 points, 14 rebounds and two blocked shots. But he left with a sprained left ankle with 1:12 left, and he wasn’t certain of his status for Sunday’s game at Boston.
“It’s not crazy like Dion’s,” he said of the sprain, comparing it to Dion Waiters’ sprain. “More just annoying.”
He said the lacerated hand “hurt but nobody is going to feel sorry for me.”
In finishing 3-2 on this homestand, the Heat clanked too many jumpers Thursday, shooting just 2 for 12 on threes in the second half, and also missed several shots in the basket area.
Goran Dragic shot just 5 for 18, finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists while enduring his third consecutive subpar shooting game.
James Johnson (10 points) was 3 for 14 from the field and had three turnovers.
After shooting 54 percent in a 33-point first quarter, which ended with the Heat ahead by 10, Miami unraveled offensively the rest of the night.
Again playing without the injured Waiters, the Heat shot 3 for 15 in a 14-point second quarter, 10 for 27 in a 21-point third quarter and 6 for 16 in a 16-point fourth quarter.
“We’ve played better offensively,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The normal ball movement the last couple months — you didn’t see it [Thursday night]. We were in the paint quite a bit but were trying to self-will too many of those opportunities in the paint and at the rim. There were probably open guys on the weakside, and we didn’t make the necessary [pass].”
Overall, Miami finished at 39 percent from the field, 26 percent on threes (6 for 23) and just 61 percent on free throws (14 for 23).
“They were more physical than us,” Dragic said. “I feel like we couldn’t get the really good rhythm in our offense and then our defense fell apart a little bit. I need to get better first. Tonight was not a good game for me.”
Thus ended the Heat’s streak of 16 consecutive home games with at least 100 points, second-longest in franchise history.
Whiteside (6 for 10), Rodney McGruder (5 for 9, 13 points) and Willie Reed (4 for 6, 9 points) were the only Heat players who made at least half their shots from the field.
Luke Babbitt went scoreless, Tyler Johnson (11 points on 4-for-9 shooting) committed four of Miami’s 17 turnovers, Josh Richardson (12 points) shot 5 for 12 and Wayne Ellington (0 for 2) had a rare scoreless game.
“You have to credit Toronto,” Spoelstra said. “They really picked up their pressure. They had us out of our normal rhythm offensively due to their pressure. We didn’t handle it well.”
Meanwhile, Miami couldn’t contain DeRozan, who scored 24 points in the first half and finished 14 for 25 from the field and 12 for 13 from the foul line. It marked the first time in DeRozan’s career that he had consecutive 40-point games.
“We would like to keep that number down,” Spoelstra said. “The ones you’ll remember are the ones he was shooting right over the top over some of our best defenders, heavily contested. It’s so challenging to defend a player like DeRozan who has the ability to draw fouls, particularly after a shot. The 13 free-throw attempts were just as tough for us to overcome.”
DeRozan’s outburst marked the second time in three games that the Heat relinquished a huge scoring night. Damian Lillard scored 49 in Portland’s victory in Miami on Sunday.
Both teams shot 6 for 23 on threes, but Toronto made 11 more free throws than Miami and outrebounded the Heat 51-36.
Spoelstra and Heat teammates raved about Whiteside, who fought through discomfort to outplay Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas (two points, eight rebounds).
“Hassan really gave us a presence in the paint,” Spoelstra said. “Inspiring to see him battling.”
The Heat (35-37) remained eighth in the Eastern Conference but just one game ahead of Chicago and Detroit. Miami fell 1 1/2 games behind No. 6 Milwaukee and No. 7 Indiana and now embarks on a three-game trip to Boston, Detroit and New York.
“These guys want this so bad, they want this opportunity to be in the playoffs,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we can to put ourselves in position to fight for it.
“I want our guys to enjoy this. I don’t feel we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. We need a day to get away from it, decompress and get back to it on Saturday.”