The Miami Heat don’t know how badly strained Goran Dragic’s left calf is or how long he’ll be out. But Wednesday night they got a taste of life without their starting point guard and it wasn’t good.
With Dragic headed home for treatment, an MRI and a better understanding of the severity of the injury, the Heat turned the ball over a season-high 24 times, blew a 16-point first half lead and were blown out by the Clippers 104-90 at the Staples Center.
When it was over, there was a collective level of frustration in the Heat locker room that made it feel like this might have been the lowest point of the season yet – and maybe just the beginning of a downward spiral.
“There’s no excuses about who is in or out of the lineup. Whoever steps out on that floor, you have a job to do,” said Dwyane Wade, who had a team-leading seven turnovers. “If you decide to do the job at 50 percent, it’s not going to be effective. We have to do better. Each and every one of us has to do a better job doing our job.
“And we’ve got to help each other. It’s hard as a guy who has been to the Finals five times, it’s hard to always preach and always tell guys that. Guys have to want it. We’ve got to want to do it for each other as a team. If we don’t, this could be awful. We could lose a lot of ballgames this month and see ourselves outside the playoff picture in no time.”
Wade wasn’t alone.
Coach Erik Spoelstra looked despondent afterward and Chris Bosh, who finished 3-of-11 from the field with just 11 points, said the breakdowns the Heat are having are simple things like communication and everyday focus.
At different points of the game, Wade and Bosh each were seen screaming at center Hassan Whiteside, who came off the bench for the first time this season and finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots.
“Our mentality right now is just really, really bad, and we have to fix it,” Bosh said.
Said Spoelstra: “What is there to say? That’s about as bad a second half as you can play in this league and each one of us have to own that, starting with me. It was just bad, bad basketball in that third quarter in particular.”
Veteran Beno Udrih started in Dragic’s place and shared the point guard responsibilities with Tyler Johnson most of the night. Neither player had exceptional games. Udrih had eight points and three assists in 28 minutes, and Johnson had eight points and four assists in 29 minutes. They combined for six turnovers.
“We kind of took for granted how much Goran actually does getting guys in the right spots,” Johnson said. “Playing hard for me isn’t the problem, it’s getting everybody else organized. On my end, I did a poor job of that. Nobody knows what we’re running and we’re trying to beat a good team like that, and it’s not going to happen. I have to look at myself. I got extended minutes with Goran being out. Obviously we were out of sync. But it starts with the point guard.”
Los Angeles (26-13) came in as the hottest team in the NBA having won nine consecutive games, but none over a team with a winning record. Not only did they win their ninth consecutive game without All-Star power forward Blake Griffin easily, but also without center DeAndre Jordan, who had his streak of 360 consecutive games played snapped because he’s battling pneumonia.
Center Cole Aldrich, who came in averaging 4.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and made his first start of the season in place of Jordan, was a big part of the Clippers’ momentum turning third quarter. He scored eight of his 13 points in the period during L.A.’s 13-0 run to start the quarter and finished with 19 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes.
The Clippers jumped out to an early 9-2 lead and the Heat missed its first six shots, but momentum changed quickly. Miami went on a 11-0 run shortly after a timeout and the Clippers went ice cold, finishing the quarter shooting 32 percent.
Miami’s lead grew to 47-31 after Udrih hit a three-pointer with 4:42 left in the first half. The Heat had assists on 17 of its 21 baskets. But the ball movement slowed down and the Clippers came storming back.
Now, the Heat (22-17) head to Denver Friday having lost three of the first four on this six game West Coast trip to face a Nuggets team that just beat the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors Wednesday.
“We all knew this road trip was coming up and we knew it was going to be tough and we knew it was going to be our biggest challenge,” Wade said. “Now, it’s how do you figure out a way to stay the course as coach would say, to stay together and stay with it and not go the other way. That’s the hardest part. That’s the difference between a good team and not so good team. It’s who can stay together through the tough parts, tough times in the game. We’ve got to figure that part out.”