The explanations for Wednesday night’s disappointing overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings — the 11th this season by the Miami Heat against an opponent with a losing record who is lottery-bound — sounded a lot like the ones we’ve heard before.
“Just being able to come back from 13, 15 [points] down in the fourth [quarter] shows you what we’re capable of,” said Justise Winslow, who missed three layups in the first half he badly regretted. “We’ve just got to find out a way to have urgency from the jump.”
“We didn’t play Miami Heat basketball in the first half, it came back and got us,” said James Johnson, who had 18 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, two steals, a block and finished a team-best plus 20 for the game. “You can’t be complacent. You can’t take nobody for granted. We’re not there yet to turn it on and off.”
“We need to start playing sooner,” said Goran Dragic, who matched a season-high with 33 points. “We cannot just turn the switch on and try to come back when we’re down 16 or 12.”
The Heat, the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference and losers of nine consecutive road games, has no time to recycle the same old mistakes if it aspires to be anything more than a team simply content with making the playoffs.
With 13 games remaining and the opportunity still there to climb up the standings, Miami (36-33) could badly use its first road win since Jan. 29 to get that process started when it takes on the Lakers (31-37) Friday night at Staples Center.
But it’s going to require a much better defensive effort than the ones we’ve seen lately from the Heat and definitely better than what it showed back on March 1when the Lakers, owners of the fastest-paced offense in the league, hit 16 three-pointers, shot 60 percent from the field and won at AmericanAirlines Arena with ease 131-113.
“Every game is important. The only thing I can say is we always bounce back after a tough loss,” Dragic said. “We know that the Lakers are playing well at home. They’re playing at a high pace. It’s kind of our kryptonite. We’re going to have to be focused on transition defense. It’s going to be a challenge. We’ll see.”
The Heat’s record against teams ranked in the top eight in pace — the Lakers (0-1), Suns (2-0), Pelicans (0-2), Warriors (0-2), Sixers (2-2), Clippers (2-0), Nets (1-2) and Magic (2-2) — is a combined 9-11.
So why does the Heat, a team with some youth and athleticism, struggle against teams that play fast?
“I think sometimes we lose our connectiveness as far as communication. That’s all it is,” Winslow said. “We’re in the right spots a lot of times or we are back on defense, but we don’t have that communication we need to find our man and matchup. A lot of times we’re giving the effort. It’s just lack of focus, lack of communication. We’ve just got to make sure we fix it.”
With Dwyane Wade (left hamstring strain) and Hassan Whiteside (left hip flexor) out and Josh Richardson (sore left foot) doubtful, the Heat could be without three rotation players. Either way, coach Erik Spoelstra said his team will have to gather itself “and keep on developing this muscle of resilience.”
“Obviously it’s a huge game,” Tyler Johnson said. “Can’t really magnify it just because every game should be that important. I don’t know if it’s magnified, but it’s definitely one of those ones you feel you got to give just maybe a little bit more to try to pull that one out. I think going 0-3 in this road trip wouldn’t sit very well with any of us. We’re going to take our time, clear out heads, that’s all you can do, come back.”
With a loss Friday, the Heat would have a road losing streak reach double digits in the same season for only the fifth time in franchise history (the longest streak was 18 games back in 1989). The last time Miami lost more than nine consecutive road games in the same season was when it dropped 15 in a row in 2008.
“There is no doubt in my mind we’re going to come to play [Friday],” James Johnson said. “It’s the character in this locker room, it’s what we built. We always do that. Tough loss against Brooklyn we got to Charlotte and we held it down. We really got to be resilient and this is the time. It’s not more Mr. Nice Guy from the coaches, from any of the players. We got to be face to face, talk eye to eye and really be one with each other.”
The longest road losing streaks in a single season in Heat history:
18 games (Dec. 15, 1988 to March 11, 1989)
15 games (Dec. 19, 2007 to Feb. 28, 2008)
14 games (March 6 to April 20, 1991)
12 games (March 17 to April 16, 1989)
9 games (Jan. 21 to March 13, 1990)
9 games (Jan. 2 to Feb. 2, 1991)
9 games (Dec. 13, 1994 to Jan. 12, 1995)
9 games (Jan. 31, 2018 through Wednesday)