There was that 15-point lead the Heat blew in Milwaukee a couple weeks back.
Then there was that 16-point lead that somehow evaporated in Detroit.
Those were bad, disheartening and morale crushing defeats, but they were nothing compared to what happened on Thursday night at AmericanAirlines.
With a spot in the playoffs within its reach, the Heat flushed away a 19-point lead in the first 10 minutes of the third quarter and lost to the Chicago Bulls 89-78. The Heat was outscored 33-8 in the third period and 57-27 in the second half.
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“We’re all frustrated when you’re in those situations. and you can’t stop an avalanche like that, but the only answer is in that locker room, and we haven’t figured out a way to hold the fort in those situations,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
With only three games remaining of the regular season, the Heat might never figure out that puzzle. And now, trailing the Nets by two in the loss column with four games to play, the Heat needs some serious help if it’s going to make the playoffs.
Miami (35-44) is 10th in the Eastern Conference standings and trails the eighth-place Nets (36-42) by 11/2 games. The Heat holds the tiebreaker, so that’s the good news in that head-to-head.
The bad news is that the Indiana Pacers (35-43) are ninth in the East and defeated the Heat 3-1 this season to control that playoff-tiebreaker scenario.
Meanwhile, the seventh-place Boston Celtics (36-42) have back-to-back games against the Cleveland Cavaliers beginning Friday, and LeBron James is thinking about sitting out those contests to, you know, rest up for the playoffs.
Just a few days ago it seemed like the Heat would actually begin the first round of the playoffs against James and his new team. It’s the matchup everyone wanted, except perhaps James, but that dream seems impossible now.
The Heat has lost five of its past six games and eight of its past 11.
Miami is playing for a shot at the first-place Atlanta Hawks at this point — or nothing at all.
The Bulls (47-32), meanwhile, already are comfortably in the playoffs but came into Miami wanting a victory for home-court advantage in the playoffs. With guard Derrick Rose back in the lineup for the second game since returning from his knee injury, the Bulls struggled with their continuity in the first half and trailed 51-32 after the second quarter.
Needing a lift in the third quarter, the Bulls got an assist from the Heat, which was simply awful after halftime.
In one of the more remarkable stat lines of the season, the Heat went 3 of 22 in the third quarter after the Bulls went 3 of 24 in the second quarter.
“I don’t have an explanation for how we came out so flat in the third quarter,” Spoelstra said.
Start with Dwyane Wade, who went 0 of 6 in the period.
“We couldn’t make a basket,” said Dwyane Wade, who finished 4 of 20 from the field for the game. “We’ve got to continue to move the ball. We didn’t do it.”
The Bulls started the third quarter with an 11-0 run, capped by a long two-pointer by forward Mike Dunleavy. Luol Deng stopped the run with a second-chance layup, but Chicago cut the Heat’s 19-point halftime lead to six points when Rose made back-to-back shots.
The Heat missed its first 12 shots of the third quarter.
Heat guard Goran Dragic made a three-pointer to give the Heat a 56-47 lead with 5:17 to play in the third quarter, and the Heat seemed to be playing into an advantage when Rose, limited with a minutes restriction, left the game for good seconds later.
Instead, the opposite happened. The Bulls cut the Heat’s lead to two points on a three-pointer by guard Aaron Brooks, and Mike Dunleavy put the Bulls ahead with a three-pointer at the two-minute mark.
The Heat’s collapse was complete.
Rose finished with 12 points, going 5 of 15 from the field, in 20 minutes.
“We couldn’t get any kind of stops,” Spoelstra said.
Pau Gasol led the Bulls with 16 points and 15 rebounds, and Brooks and Taj Gibson both had 14 points off the bench.
Hassan Whiteside led the Heat with 19 points and 16 rebounds, but he didn’t get much help from the Heat’s backcourt.
Wade had nine points, and Dragic went 7 of 16 for 15 points.