The last thing the Heat wanted after beating the Thunder and Cavaliers was to end a challenging four-game homestand with another letdown.
But that’s what happened Monday night against the shorthanded Washington Wizards.
Behind 26 points from All-Star point guard John Wall and 21 points off the bench from Gary Neal — including a few big baskets late — the Wizards scored the final 11 points of the game to beat the Heat 114-103 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“Defensively that was probably our worst game of the year,” coach Erik Spoelstra said after Miami allowed 52 points in the paint.
“Speed, small lineup, smaller lineup, more speed. Even before that I felt they were going downhill most of the game and we couldn’t flatten them out and force them to play an uphill game.
“Right from the beginning they had us on our heels driving and kicking. They really attacked the paint like we haven’t been attacked all year.”
Chris Bosh wasn’t around for the final buzzer. He was ejected with 28.1 seconds left for arguing with officials. That was well after Spoelstra had just about lost his mind when Neal sank a corner three-pointer with 1:07 left on a pass from Bradley Beal.
The Heat contended Beal had traveled. But the play was reviewed and the call upheld. Spoelstra said he got no explanation from officials on the call. Bosh, meanwhile, kept giving them a piece of his mind.
“It was a travel,” Bosh said. “I didn’t need to watch it. I know what happened.”
After Goran Dragic hit a pair of free throws to tie the score at 103 with 2:28 remaining, Beal stole the ball from Wade and outran him down the court for a dunk. Dragic, who finished with a season-high 20 points and matched a season-high with nine assists, then was called for a charge on Miami’s next offensive possession.
Wade finished with 26 points on 12-of-15 shooting and also had nine assists. Bosh finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and four assists in 34 minutes.
But it was really what the Heat (12-7) did on defense that hurt most. Despite shooting 59.4 percent, Miami allowed the Wizards (9-10) to score 52 points in the paint and often could not stop Wall, Beal or Neal from getting to the basket.
The Wizards, who came into the game second in the league in fast-break points, featured a small, fast lineup most of the game. Many times, 6-9, 198-pound forward Otto Porter was their tallest player on the court and 6-7, 225-pound forward Jared Dudley was at center.
With five guards on the floor late, Spoelstra decided to keep Hassan Whiteside on the bench for the entire fourth quarter. Whiteside finished with 14 points, four rebounds and three blocks in only 23 minutes.
“Basically you’re dealing with five guards out there,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is out behind the three-point line. Welcome to the NBA. This is what everybody is doing right now. We’d been doing a good job [of defending it to this point]. Tonight was the first night we didn’t corral it.”
Wizards coach Randy Wittman said if Spoelstra had stuck with Whiteside in the fourth quarter he would have left Dudley on the floor, forcing Whiteside out of the paint to defend the perimeter player.
“And that’s something I don’t think they really want to do,” Wittman said.
Gerald Green, held scoreless in nearly 16 minutes in the first half, scored nine points in the third quarter to help the Heat grab the lead. Miami went ahead by as many as seven points when he drove down the center of the lane for a one-handed jam with 4:29 left in the quarter. But the Wizards closed the quarter on a 7-0 run to retake the lead.
The Heat’s defense was lethargic in the first half. Despite putting up a season-high 36 points in the second quarter, Miami trailed by as many as 14 in the period and went into the half down 60-55. Washington ate Miami up in transition, scoring 32 of its 60 first-half points in the paint. Miami came in allowing only 39.9 per game.
“We gave them confidence at the beginning of the game,” Dragic said. “Then even when we contested [in the second half] they were still making those shots. It’s hard to swallow this game. But tomorrow we need to come in and talk about the things we did wrong and correct them.”