With injuries on top of injuries running through the team in recent weeks, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s exasperated expressions during news conferences have been varied, nuanced and many.
On Tuesday morning before his team played the Philadelphia 76ers, Spoelstra was asked about his team’s game on Christmas against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he contorted his face appropriately.
The day before Christmas Eve, Spoelstra wasn’t yet ready to wrap his brain around trying to defend James with the Heat’s piecemeal roster.
“We’re not at a point where we’re circling some games more than others,” Spoelstra said. “We’re in survival mode right now.”
And then he cautioned: “We can’t afford to look ahead, at all, ever, this season.”
Later that night, the Heat lost to the worst team in the NBA 91-87 two days before Christmas with LeBron. The Heat blew a 23-point lead in the second half and was outscored by the 76ers 18-9 in the fourth quarter.
“Our offense was empty,” Spoelstra said. “It seemed like we had a 16-minute drought where we couldn’t hold the fort.”
Trailing by two points, the Heat (13-16) missed multiple opportunities to tie or take the lead with a minute to play, including missed three-point attempts by Dwyane Wade, Shawne Williams, Mario Chalmers and Luol Deng. There wasn’t a Christmas sweater in AmericanAirlines Arena or perhaps all of Miami as ugly as that final minute of the game.
“Those last home-run threes were probably the best looks we had the entire second half,” Spoelstra said. “I’ll take those over the execution we had up to that point.”
The Heat had 14 turnovers in the second half and shot 27.8 percent from the field. Wade was 9 of 21 in his first game back since missing Sunday’s game with a sore right knee.
“We really struggled just to get into the offense,” Spoelstra said. “Once we started to turn it over, it became a landslide from there.”
The Heat lost five consecutive games and 8 of 9 at home before defeating the Boston Celtics on Sunday. Miami hasn’t won consecutive games at home since the first week of the season. The Heat led by 23 points four minutes into the second half, but the determined 76ers (4-23), who defeated the Orlando Magic on Sunday, never stopped playing defense. The Heat, of course, just quit playing as it was outscored 45-18 to end the game.
A three-pointer by 76ers second-year pro Michael Carter-Williams with 9:17 left in the game cut the Heat’s lead to four points. Rookie Jerami Grant then gave the 76ers an 85-82 lead with 5:55 left when he went inside against Udonis Haslem, drew a foul and then converted the three-point play.
Carter-Williams and his length and activity were a problem for the Heat throughout the second half. The Heat’s guards combined for eight turnovers. Carter-Williams finished with five steals to go along with 12 points in the second half. He had 20 points, six steals and three rebounds for the game.
Wade banked in a turnaround jumper to cut the 76ers’ lead to 87-86 with three minutes to play, but Philadelphia forward Luc Mbah a Moute answered with a driving layup. The Heat missed seven shots in the final 100 seconds of the game.
Wade finished with 23 points after scoring 17 in the first half. Williams had 17 points and was the Heat’s only consistent offensive option in the second half. He was 4 of 5 from the field in the final two quarters. Chalmers had 11 points to round out the Heat’s scorers in double figures.
Mbah a Moute had 19 points, and K.J. Daniels had 13 points off the bench. Robert Covington and Grant both scored 11 points for the 76ers.
Wade said the embarrassing loss to the Sixers would not affect the Heat going into its Christmas game against James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“We had a lot of losses this year, so just throw this one on top of the rest,” Wade said. “I think everyone will get rejuvenated and understand that we have a nice Christmas game coming in here. Fans will be excited and we need to find a way to win.”