If the playoffs started today, the Miami Heat would be watching from home.
The Heat fell to ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings Friday night with a 98-85 loss to the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center, site of Game 5 of the 2014 NBA Finals. It was the Heat’s first game in San Antonio since losing to the Spurs 4-1 in those Finals, but the team the Heat fielded in the first rematch barely resembled that four-time defending Eastern Conference championship team with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
James is long gone, of course, but Wade, back in Miami recovering from a strained hamstring, wasn’t with the Heat either. That left Bosh, Luol Deng, Udonis Haslem and some youngsters to face a finally healthy Spurs team desperately wanting a win before embarking on a behemoth nine-game, month-long road trip. The Spurs had a completely healthy team for the first time since last summer’s Finals, and the defending champs played with an offensive rhythm that has become the trademark of teams coached by the legendary Gregg Popovich.
Led by their unselfish veterans, the Spurs had 31 assists on 40 field goals. Manu Ginobili came off the bench for nine assists and six points in less than 25 minutes, and seven Spurs had at least two assists. The Spurs also scored 24 points off 16 turnovers by the Heat.
“It was tough just making the right reads,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Those turnovers led to pick-sixes, got them going and they got some easy looks from that.”
The loss put the Heat (21-29) a half-game behind the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference standings.
“Yeah, we’re not going to get overwhelmed with that right now,” Spoelstra said. “We’re just going to try to continue to improve.”
Finishing its four-game road trip 1-3, the Heat didn’t play badly against the Spurs but it was clear from the beginning that Miami didn’t have enough offensive talent to keep up with the Spurs. Led by eight points from Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, the Spurs outscored the Heat 30-19 in the first quarter and the Heat trailed the rest of the game.
Leonard finished with 24 points and set a career high with five three-pointers. Parker had 21 points, going 9 of 12 from the field and 2 of 3 from distance. Deng scored 17 points for the Heat.
“We make mistakes, they’re going to capitalize off those mistakes,” said Bosh, who had 14 points and seven rebounds. “Even if we don’t turn the ball over, the defensive mistakes that you make, they’ll make you pay. They just got us in scramble mode.”
The injury-riddled Heat was without Hassan Whiteside, who sat with a sprained right ankle. Haslem injured his wrist with 1:07 remaining in the first period and was taken to the locker room for X-rays. Initial X-rays were negative, but the veteran big man said he would be reevaluated in Miami on Saturday. Haslem said he lost feeling in his hand for an extended period of time.
With Whiteside and Haslem out, that left backup center Justin Hamilton to carry the team inside alongside Chris Andersen. Andersen had 10 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes and Hamilton had two points, five rebounds and four assists off the bench.
Reserve guard Tyler Johnson, perhaps playing his final game with the Heat, led the team in scoring with 18 points in 26 minutes. Johnson’s second 10-day contract expires Saturday, and it’s unclear whether the Heat will sign him for the remainder of the season. If Friday was indeed his final game with the team, he left everything on the court. Johnson needed an IV after the game for dehydration.
“I went out the way I wanted if this is the last time I played in the NBA,” Johnson said. “If this is the last time I play basketball, I got to fulfill my dream of playing in the NBA, and obviously as a competitor I don’t want it to be over, but I put my heart out there on the court.”