Injuries, defensive laziness and poor three-point shooting by the Heat combined to give the NBA one of its more surprising upsets of the early season on Tuesday in Washington.
The Heat had been flirting with embarrassment for nearly a fortnight before the roof of the Verizon Center caved in on the defending champions in the form of a 105-101 loss to the Wizards. For a team that prides itself on defense, it was a pathetic display.
“We have to respect the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the loss.
If the Heat didn’t disrespect the game on Tuesday, it certainly showed it a casual indifference. The Wizards (2-13) scored 60 points in the first half, out-hustled and out shot the Heat and only had 10 turnovers compared to a staggering 31 assists.
Now, suddenly, the Heat is vulnerable with the New York Knicks returning to Miami for the first time since the first round of last season’s Eastern Conference playoffs. The Heat (12-4) missed an opportunity on Tuesday to begin the season 13-3 for the first time in franchise history.
“We made a furious comeback in the fourth quarter, like we’ve been doing,” Spoelstra said. “Guys are playing nicked up. Guys were playing through fatigue.”
The Heat’s growing injury list is a concern. Although LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh played well offensively against the Wizards, the team’s role players offered little support. The Big 3 outscored the rest of the Heat 70-31.
Starters Mario Chalmers and Rashard Lewis went scoreless against the Wizards and Chalmers left the game with an injury to his left ring finger after 10 minutes of action. He will miss Thursday’s game and could be out a significant amount of time.
Second-year point guard Norris Cole sat out against the Wizards with a strained groin muscle but is expected to start against New York. Reserve guard Terrel Harris, who played 12 minutes on Tuesday, is also an option but, with Chalmers out, a bulk of the team’s point-guard responsibilities will fall to James. He had 26 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists against the Wizards.
“I know I have to handle the ball a lot,” James said. “It takes a lot out of you when you have to run the point, but I got to do it.”
Shane Battier, who has missed three consecutive games due to a knee injury, could also return to the starting lineup against the Knicks. Battier strained the medial-collateral ligament of his right knee on Nov.24 against the Cavaliers. The injury has limited his lateral movement.
“Straight ahead is fine,” Battier said. “Just the change of pace and the change-of-direction drills and movements are the ones that cause pain. When you have pain, your body's natural inclination is to compensate for it and your back gets out of joint and everything else.”
Compounding the problem at power forward, Udonis Haslem played with a hip pointer against the Wizards and suffered a nasty blow to the injured area on Tuesday. He was in significant pain after the game.
Also playing despite discomfort is Ray Allen, whose three game-winning shots at home has helped the Heat remain undefeated (8-0) at AmericanAirlines Arena. Allen, normally sharp in the fourth quarters of games, was 0 of 3 in the final 12 minutes against the Wizards. He finished with 11 points.
“You have to be able to adapt and adjust in an NBA season,” Spoelstra said of the injuries and his team’s poor play against the Wizards. “Every team goes through it. We have to own it right now and just brush it off. It’s just a game that we let go because we didn’t put ourselves in the right position, give ourselves enough to win. But we do have to move on for Thursday.”