Hard to believe, but things could get even worse for the Heat before they get better.
The injury-depleted team limped into Thursday night’s nationally televised game against the Los Angeles Clippers with a piecemeal starting lineup, and few healthy options off the bench. Then, in the second quarter, the Heat’s starting point guard was rushed to the locker room in serious pain.
Not that Norris Cole would have made much of a difference on this night — the Heat lost 110-93, and the team already trailed by more than 20 points when Cole left with a dislocated middle finger — but one more injured starting guard might be too much for the Heat to overcome even against the dregs of the Eastern Conference.
The Clippers are expected to be one of the best teams in the good conference — that would be the Western — so they made quick work of the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena. Led by Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J Redick, Los Angeles built an easy 16 point-lead less than eight minutes into the game. From there, they cruised to victory despite playing three time zones away from Southern California and on the second night of a Florida back-to-back.
The Heat (6-6) lost by 17 points and Chris Bosh scored 28. That’s a bad sign.
Luol Deng, Mario Chalmers and Shabazz Napier each scored in double figures for the Heat, but without starting shooting guard Dwyane Wade and any semblance of interior or pick-and-roll defense, it was difficult to watch for Heat fans spoiled by four years of LeBron James and an offense that could score points at will.
Miami trailed 39-15 after the first quarter.
“Not a whole lot to say,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We got blitzed.”
Paul and Griffin finished with 26 points each for the Clippers and center DeAndre Jordan had 12 points and 11 rebounds. Paul had 12 assists, or one more than the Heat combined. Los Angeles was 13 of 31 from three-point range with Paul going 3 of 5 from that distance and J.J. Redick shooting 4 of 8 from behind the arc.
The Heat was 6 of 26 from three-point range, or 23.1 percent. The Clippers scored 44 points in the paint.
Spoelstra said the plan was to protect the paint.
“But obviously that didn’t happen,” he said.
Somehow, the Heat defeated the Brooklyn Nets on Monday to end a three-game losing streak, but now the defending conference champions have lost three in a row at home.
And, by the way, how bad is that team in Brooklyn?
Cole never returned after his injury, which forced Shannon Brown into the lineup. He started the second half and could start on Saturday in Orlando if Cole isn’t cleared to play. The Heat plays the Charlotte Hornets at AmericanAirlines Arena on Sunday.
After telling reporters that he wasn’t ready to return on a day-to-day basis, forward Danny Granger made an appearance with less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Heat trailed by 16 points when Granger checked in to round out a lineup of Brown, rookie Napier, Chris Andersen, who still isn’t 100 percent healthy after injuring his ribs, and Josh McRoberts, who appeared to be favoring his injured foot early in the game.
Positive signs were few but a driving dunk by McRoberts near the end of the third quarter was at least a glimmer of hope. It’s unclear at this point when McRoberts will be healthy enough to take his place in the starting lineup, and Wade could miss significant more time with his hamstring injury.
Led by Paul and Redick, the Clippers began the game 5 of 8 from three-point range and 17 of 25 from the field. During that time, the Heat could only manage 19 shots overall. Miami missed its first 11 attempts from three-point range and was 3 of 16 from distance four minutes into the second half. The Clippers had 31 assists overall to the Heat’s 11.
The Clippers’ first-quarter lead ballooned to 34-11 before Chalmers put a tourniquet on the bleeding with back-to-back driving layups. Still, the Heat trailed 58-40 at halftime. Fans arrived late despite the game beginning at 8 p.m. and being on national television, but the arena was mostly full for the first half’s best highlight, an alley-oop from Paul to Griffin. Griffin’s high-flying dunk gave Los Angeles a 23-point lead with 3:10 left in the half.