No team has played as few road games as the Heat, which hosted 14 of its first 19 to start the season.
The schedule isn’t nearly as forgiving over the next seven weeks — Miami plays 12 of 13 on the road in one grueling January stretch — and far more will be required than the dreadful effort the Heat served up here Wednesday night.
Turnover-prone on offense and sluggish and slow-reacting on defense, the Heat was trampled early, plunged into a 20-point halftime hole and trailed by 26 after three in a 99-81 loss to the Hornets.
“Big old-fashioned butt-whooping,” Chris Bosh said. “Everything was off. We messed up in every facet. By now, we should know our game and what we want to get to, but we don’t do it. We talk about things, but we don’t do it. We’ve had enough conversations. I don’t know how many speeches [Udonis Haslem] has to give.”
Dwyane Wade put it this way: “We just didn’t play hard enough. I’ve been cautioning everybody that we’re just not there yet. It’s going to take a while.”
What specifically irked Wade and Bosh was the Heat’s freelancing tendencies on offense.
“You can’t freelance on the road,” said Wade, who scored 11 points in 25 minutes. “C.B. has to touch the ball in spots where he’s comfortable. I have to touch the ball in spots where I’m comfortable and then we play from there. You can get away with that at home. On the road, you have to be specific where you want to go.”
Bosh, who had just seven points and two rebounds in 21 minutes, seemed somewhat exasperated, saying he’s “reliant” on getting the ball in the right spot. “In this system, it is a necessity the ball moves. If the ball doesn’t move, I don’t move. Nothing moves for me. It’s going to be zero, zero, zero.
“We need to put the ball in certain places. Day to day, we don’t know where the ball is going. … We get to the game and everything stops.”
So why is this happening?
“Everyone means well,” Wade said. “You can’t spar on the road. You have to get to your game right away.”
The Heat committed 18 turnovers (including six by Hassan Whiteside) and shot 38.7 percent. Goran Dragic scored just five points (2-for-7 shooting) after three consecutive sharp games. Whiteside scored six points and struggled when given several chances to post up.
Defensively, Miami was too slow in rotating to three-point shooters, with Charlotte opening 7 for 12 from beyond the arc and finishing 11 for 27 (41 percent).
Everything was off. We messed up in every facet. We talk about things, but we don’t do it. We’ve had enough conversations. I don’t know how many speeches [Udonis Haslem] has to give.
The Heat, which ranked in the top three in field-goal percentage against for much of the season, has now had back-to-back defensive stinkers. On Monday, Miami allowed 114 points and 50 percent shooting, including 9 for 18 on threes, in an 11-point loss to Washington.
On Wednesday, Charlotte shot 49 percent, with too many attempts going unchallenged.
“It’s the game everyone is playing,” Wade said of teams spreading the floor. “You have to make faster adjustments on the fly.”
Luol Deng returned after missing six games with a hamstring injury, but Erik Spoelstra started Gerald Green in order to limit Deng’s minutes.
The Heat (12-8) began the night second in the Eastern Conference but just a game out of ninth. With 10 Eastern teams beginning Wednesday above .500 and another (Washington) just one game under, there’s less margin for error than a year ago. The Heat’s 36 points in the first half were its second-fewest in 20 games this season and its 20-point halftime deficit was its largest. Miami, led in scoring by Tyler Johnson’s 20, never drew closer than 15 in the second half.
“Offensively, very sloppy,” Spoelstra said. And defensively, “we got torched. It just seemed like we were late on everything. We tried everybody. Our players were trying to step up in huddles. They outplayed us in all facets.”