The back-to-back champs have lost back-to-back games for the first time in 10 months, but the mostly lethargic road trip against the Sixers and Nets wasn’t without clear evidence that suggests the Heat is just fine.
Glimpses of the explosive potential of the Heat’s offense were encouraging to coach Erik Spoelstra despite the losses, and his biggest concern after Friday’s defeat was simply getting off to a better start against the Wizards on Friday. The Heat (1-2) plays Washington (0-2) at AmericanAirlines Arena at 6 p.m.
“Most facets of the game we were able to hang in there,” Spoelstra said Friday. “We have to own it and move on to the next game and hopefully get off to a better start.”
Some of the more encouraging signs from the Heat’s two losses:
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• With Dwyane Wade out of the lineup to rest his legs, the Heat scored 45 points in 12 minutes against the Sixers, setting an all-time record for points in the third quarter at Wells Fargo Center. In the second and third quarters combined against Philadelphia, Miami scored 80 points and shot 13 of 19 from three-point range.
• On Friday, Wade returned to the lineup and looked refreshed and nimble against the Nets. That Wade’s body responded well to its scheduled rest was probably the most important development of the Heat’s first three games of the season. He scored 21 points against the Nets and was the Heat’s most effective player in the paint.
• Wade finished 10 of 11 from the free-throw line against Brooklyn and showed no fear crashing to the floor or colliding hard under the basket with defenders.
• Led by LeBron James, the Heat averaged 27 assists in their two losses.
• Spoelstra challenged Chris Bosh this preseason to further develop his three-point shooting, and Bosh has responded well. He is 4of 7 from three-point range through the first three games and shot 3 of 5 from three-point range on the road trip.
• The Heat trailed by 12 points with less three minutes to play Friday, but rallied in dramatic fashion and were one missed free throw by Ray Allen away from having a chance to tie or win on the game’s final possession.
Like Spoelstra, Wade and Bosh were more concerned with the Heat’s slow starts in first and third quarters than anything else.
“This ain’t nothing new,” Wade said. “We’ve dealt with this before. This story line continues.”
Indeed, the Heat began the 2012-13 season 2-3 on the road and the biggest problem a year ago, apathy early in games, again is a theme. Miami is averaging 16.3 points in the first quarters of games to start the season. The Heat scored 14 points in the first quarter against the 76ers.
“That’s three games in a row we haven’t gotten off to the start that we needed to — not so much the offense, not on defense, but overall,” Bosh said. “Everything hasn’t been very good for us the past three games. We’re going to have to figure it out and bring the necessary energy to really get a good start.”
Sunday will provide the perfect opportunity to turn things around against a motivated team. The Wizards are still without a victory after their first two games and were upset by the Sixers on Friday two days after Philadelphia shocked the Heat. Sunday also is expected to be the first game for Wizards point guard John Wall at AmericanAirlines Arena since April 21, 2012. Wall is dealing with back spasms and missed practice Saturday.
“John Wall gives them a good chance every night,” said James, who compared the Wizards to Cleveland and Detroit. “Those are the three teams that are trying to get better from last year’s ranks and make a push, so we look forward to playing them.”
This is the fourth season together for the Heat core, but that only makes it slightly easier to find offensive rhythm this early in the season, Bosh said Friday.
“We have to get the rhythm again, especially on offense where we’re kind of stagnant a little bit,” he said. “It’s a process and we have to do it all over again and it’s kind of frustrating sometimes, but that’s the beauty of basketball. We’re trying to do something special here. We’re continuing it and it’s going to be very difficult.”
The Nets’ inspired effort in their home opener put the Heat on notice. Brooklyn figures to be a contender this season in the Eastern Conference and features a lineup that could be deep enough to compete with the defending champions.
“They’re going to be a team we’re going to battle with,” Wade said. “They made the Eastern Conference tougher. They’re going to be a good team, there’s no secret about that.”
Spoelstra offered the Nets the ultimate compliment after Friday’s loss when he compared Brooklyn’s versatility to the Heat’s “position-less” philosophy.
“They’re similar to us; they can play different styles,” Spoelstra said. “That should serve them well.”
Although the Nets don’t have anyone as amorphous as James, substitutes Jason Terry, Andrei Kirilenko, Andre Blatche and Reggie Evans should give Brooklyn coach Jason Kidd plenty of options beyond the five All-Stars in the starting lineup.