Barring a playoff appearance and first-round upset win, this Heat season will be remembered for two things: myriad games missed because of injury/illness and an inability to hold sizable leads.
Thursday’s latest demoralizing second-half collapse — combined with Friday’s wins by Boston, Brooklyn and Indiana — dealt a serious blow to Miami’s playoff hopes. Miami will enter Saturday in 10th place in the East — one game behind No. 9 Indiana and two games behind No. 7 Boston and No. 8 Brooklyn.
While preparing for Saturday’s critical home game against Toronto, the Heat on Friday tried to reconcile how it squandered a 19-point halftime lead Thursday against Chicago, after frittering late leads of 14 in Milwaukee and 15 in Detroit in recent weeks, as well as a 16-point advantage against Dallas and Golden State and a 23-point second-half cushion against Philadelphia. The Heat lost all of those games.
Beyond the obvious solution of needing to make more shots (Miami opened the second half shooting 3 for 22 against Chicago), what else can be done to stop these runs before they mushroom into an avalanche?
On Friday, coach Erik Spoelstra pointed to playing better defense. Players cited that as well as a need for better ball movement.
“We go into our first situation, second situation and then the ball stops,” guard Goran Dragic said. “We need to swing the ball side to side. We need to try to shift the defense. We put too much pressure on ourselves on offense. In the third quarter against Chicago, we couldn’t make a shot, but we didn’t play good defense.”
During those horrid stretches, shouldn’t the Heat work to get the ball inside more instead of settling for jumpers?
Spoelstra insisted that was not an issue Thursday, saying it was “the most varied of the offensive menu that we had, much different than the Milwaukee game, a little different from the Detroit game … We had nine post-up opportunities [in the third quarter]. All of Hassan [Whiteside’s] were very good looks, two feet in the paint. He missed all four.”
Wade, who said he takes “a lot of the burden on my shoulder” offensively during though droughts, suggested the Heat has the mental toughness to recover from Thursday because “we’ve been hit with a lot of body blows all season.”
Udonis Haslem said players have rallied around the belief that “nobody believes in us as a team.”
The good news: None of the other three contenders for the final two playoff spots has an easier schedule than the Heat, which has games left against Toronto, Orlando and at Philadelphia.
Remaining games for the other three:
▪ Indiana: at Oklahoma City, Washington and at Memphis.
▪ Boston: Cleveland, Toronto at Milwaukee.
▪ Nets: at Milwaukee, Chicago and Orlando.
The Heat would lose a two-team tiebreaker against Indiana but would win tiebreakers against the Nets and Celtics.
The Heat would win three-team tiebreakers against both Brooklyn and Boston and also against Indiana and Brooklyn because of a superior record in games among those sets of teams. But conference record would be needed to resolve a Heat/Pacers/Celtics three-team tie, with Indiana well-positioned to win that.
If the Heat doesn’t make the playoffs, there’s a good chance that Miami would keep its top-10 protected lottery pick, but it’s not guaranteed.
The Heat’s first-rounder was originally sent to Cleveland in a LeBron James sign-and-trade and now belongs to the 76ers, who get it this year if it’s outside the top 10.
The Heat entered Friday with the NBA’s 10th-worst record. But finishing with the 10th-worst record doesn’t ensure that the Heat will retain the pick.
The weighted NBA Draft lottery, scheduled for May 19, first establishes the top three picks. After that, teams receive their pick in inverse order of record.
If a non-playoff team with a better record than Miami should defy odds and land in the top three of the lottery, then the Heat would be pushed out of the top 10 and the pick would be forwarded to Philadelphia.
And regardless of Miami’s final record, it still has a chance — albeit a small one — of landing a top three pick, as long as the Heat misses the playoffs.
The Knicks, Philadelphia, Orlando, the Lakers, Denver, Sacramento, Minnesota and Detroit will finish with worse records than the Heat. That’s eight teams. Charlotte also has a worse record. A coin toss would break a tie in determining pre-lottery order.
But even if the Heat keeps the pick this year, it must eventually forward a first-round pick to Philadelphia in 2016 (when it’s again top 10 protected) or in 2017 (when it’s unprotected).
▪ According to Elias, Thursday’s Heat game marked only the second time in the shot clock era (since 1954-55) that a team that led by at least 19 at halftime trailed by as many as six points after three quarters, as Miami did.
SATURDAY: HEAT VS. RAPTORS
When, where: 7:30 p.m., AmericanAirlines Arena.
TV, radio: Sun Sports; WAXY 104.3 FM, 790 AM; WRTO 98.3 FM (Spanish).
Series: Heat leads 48-22.
Notable: The Heat and Raptors split their two meetings this year, Miami winning by five at home in November and losing by 10 on March 13 in Toronto. … Henry Walker is questionable with a sore left elbow.