All the experts said scoring points was going be the Miami Heat’s biggest problem this season. So far, they’ve been pretty much dead on.
On Saturday night, it was the same old story in the Heat’s fourth consecutive loss. Another long third-quarter scoring drought put Miami in a big hole it couldn’t climb out of and the Utah Jazz, playing its fifth road game in seven nights, emerged with a 102-91 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The new twist in this Heat loss, though, was the collective lack of effort during the breakdown, a distressing and perturbing signal only eight games into the season.
“Definitely was not expecting that,” a disappointed Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after a game in which his team missed the first 10 shots of the second half and he benched starting center Hassan Whiteside and starting shooting guard Dion Waiters in the middle of it. “That’s not who we are and that’s not who we’ve been for the last month.
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“We’re not feeling great about the result right now, but we had been building each game and you felt that. Each game we had been building better habits, getting closer, making a step or two forward, and this is a half-step back.”
Trailing by only five points at the half, Miami opened the second half in a deep funk before Josh McRoberts, playing for the first time this season, finally ended the misery with a 13-foot jumper at the 6:19 mark of the third quarter.
By then, Utah (7-4) was ahead 13 points and on its way to extending its lead to as many as 21 points early in the fourth quarter. The Heat, which shot 6 of 23 (26 percent) from the field in the third quarter, shot 46.9 percent for the game but was only 5 of 17 from three-point range.
The Heat, which came into Saturday’s game as the third-worst shooting team in the league (41.7 percent) and the second-worst scoring team in the league (96.1 points per game), trimmed Utah’s lead to 86-75 on a Rodney McGruder three-pointer with 6:32 to play.
But that’s as close as Miami got until the very end.
The Jazz, playing on the second night of a back-to-back set, was playing without starting point guard George Hill (thumb) for the fourth game in a row, reserve forward Boris Diaw (bone bruise) for the eighth game in a row and lost starting power forward Derrick Favors after only six minutes because of left knee soreness.
Still, none of that really slowed Utah down.
Gordon Hayward led Utah, which shot 49.4 percent, with 25 points, nine rebounds and four assists. And Whiteside led the Heat with 15 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks in 33 minutes.
“They got to the free-throw line too many times,” said Whiteside, clearly unaware the Jazz shot as many free throws as the Heat (19). “We couldn’t keep Gordon Hayward off the free-throw line all night. I don’t know how many he shot [he made 4 of 5], but anything you did to him — you blew on him — he might shoot free throws for this interview. It was unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
With Goran Dragic (sprained left ankle) out for the first time this season, Spoelstra started Josh Richardson in Dragic’s place and went to some different rotations in the first half.
McRoberts was the first center to come into the game — ahead of Willie Reed. And Derrick Williams, who had played only three minutes total in the Heat’s first seven games, entered in Luke Babbitt’s usual spot in the second quarter. Babbitt started the game 0 for 3 from three-point range and didn’t return after being pulled five minutes into the game.
Williams, who finished with 11 points, four rebounds and an assist, scored his first points of the season on a dunk and then followed it up with a lay-up moments later that tied the score at 47.
But Hayward, who led the Jazz with 13 first-half points, scored the final five points of the half on a dunk and corner three. Then, the Heat opened the second half by missing its first 10 shots and the Jazz was in control for the duration.
“We lost this game in the third [quarter] from an effort standpoint,” said Justise Winslow, who was 5 of 13 from the field with 11 points, six rebounds, two assists and five fouls. “We’ll do a better job once we do that — pick up the effort and the details. But first thing we have to do is play hard for 48 minutes, everybody. Part of that responsibility falls on me to get the guys to do that as a leader of this team. We’ll do better.”