Despite all of the issues with the Heat’s defense, Miami is certain of one thing: It’s not coach Erik Spoelstra’s scheme that’s causing problems, it’s the players.
After the Heat outshot Atlanta on Wednesday and still lost 112-102 to drop to 9-9, Spoelstra’s defensive system came under fire. It was the team’s fifth loss in its past six home games, and almost a quarter of the way through the season, Miami wasn’t any more efficient on defense than it was at the end of October.
But Chris Bosh said Thursday the defensive scheme is fine. The Heat is simply making too many mistakes.
“I think it’s so many things,” Bosh said. “We’re still making mistakes with quick shots, turnovers — that’s the things we can control, and we can bring that number down just by taking care of the ball.
“We’re going to make mistakes systematically, but all in all, I think when we had them against our set defense we were OK. It’s just in transition, making those mistakes cost us a lot.”
Spoelstra thinks the Heat’s biggest defensive concern should be protecting the paint.
“We have to contain the ball, we have to be able to keep it out of the paint,” Spoelstra said.
“That really has to be a priority for us with this team, it’s different than what we’ve been in the past. We have to be much more aware to limit paint touches, as opposed to being disruptive.”
Luol Deng played 17 minutes against Atlanta before leaving the game with a bone bruise on his thumb and index finger. Deng said he landed awkwardly on his hand during the first half with his index finger and thumb spread apart.
He was at Thursday’s practice with his entire right hand heavily wrapped with four fingers exposed.
“I feel terrible. It’s bruised and strained,” he said. “I got a lot of swelling and I can’t get the motion that I want, I don’t have the strength in my ligaments.”
X-rays came back negative Wednesday, and there is no timetable for Deng’s return. He will travel with the team for Miami’s five-game, eight-day road swing out West and, no stranger to playing injured, said he is thinking about playing but “will see how it goes.”
As for Deng’s replacement on the road — Miami starts the trip Friday in Milwaukee — Spoelstra said Danny Granger is “ahead of schedule” and feels comfortable using him at small forward.
James Ennis started the second half against Atlanta and had two points in 17 minutes; Granger played nine minutes and went scoreless.
▪ Chris Andersen, out indefinitely with a sprained ankle, is still rehabbing but will travel with the team as well.
▪ Norris Cole was back at practice Thursday after missing Wednesday’s game with an illness.
In his first start of the season Wednesday, Josh McRoberts took only four shots and scored four points in just under 21 minutes. He had four turnovers, but it was his five assists that had Spoelstra and Bosh talking Thursday.
“He makes the game easier, he’s a pass-first guy, a team-first guy, that’s really a great kind of person to play with,” Bosh said. “We just have to get used to him, he has to get used to us, he has to get used to the system and the personnel. I think once he does that, once we all do that and get comfortable with each other on both ends, things will start clicking.”
Friday: Heat at Bucks
When/where: 8:30 p.m., BMO Harris Bradley Center.
TV/radio: Sun Sports; WAXY 790, 104.3 FM; WAQI 710 (Spanish).
Series: Heat leads 60-35.
Of note: The Heat is 9-9 and things aren’t getting easier for the four-time defending Eastern Conference championships. Starting guard Norris Cole (finger) has been playing injured and missed Wednesday’s game with an illness, and Chris Andersen remains out with an ankle injury. On top of that, Luol Deng bruised his hand on Wednesday and is questionable for Friday’s game at Milwaukee’s Bradley Center. The Bucks (10-10) have lost three in a row. Ersan Ilyasova is out with a broken nose and John Henson is out with a sprained left foot. Broward native Brandon Knight is leading the Bucks with 17.9 points and 6.0 assists per game.