Just when you thought the Heat was on a roll, they slipped back into the quagmire.
Miami displayed a split personality equally last season with a miserable first half that was followed by an amazing finish.
But this season, the Heat’s highs and lows have been coming almost game to game.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and his players were left still working on finding the answers after Miami’s 29-point loss to the Knicks at Madison Square on Garden Wednesday night — its most lopsided of the season.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“It’s hard to figure out this team right now,” Spoelstra said. “That’s what I’m trying to really figure out, one game to the next. And it clearly was not the same team that started the road trip from a defensive standpoint. And, at the same time, it can be that the next game. That’s what so hard to figure out about this group.”
The Heat played some of its worst defensive basketball of the season Tuesday and Wednesday.
Miami was missing Hassan Whiteside (left knee soreness) against the Knicks. But New York lost Kristaps Porzingis, the NBA’s fourth-leading scorer, only two-and-a-half minutes into the game and still rolled with a 60.3 percent shooting performance.
The Heat’s offensive woes are contributing to its problems on defense as the Heat’s poor possessions and subpar shooting allowed for some quick run-outs by the Knicks, who were already dominating on the boards, out-rebounding Miami 52-31 and outscoring the Heat in the paint 58-32.
With multiple players underperforming on offense, the Heat’s scoring numbers have dropped from a year ago. The Heat, which ranked 21st last season in scoring (103.2 points per game), is 26th so far this season (100.0). Miami’s shooting percentage — 15th in the league last season (45.5) is down to 19th this season (44.5) and its three-point shooting has dipped from 12th last season (36.5) to 19th this season (32.2).
“Well, that’s the discouraging part of the game, is regardless of who we have out there, you want to lay it out there and compete every single possession,” Spoelstra said. “We weren’t sharp offensively, just in terms of working the offense, working to get a good-to-great shot. Sometimes you have to get to the third or fourth layer of your offense.”
The Heat seemed like it had found the answer or at least lessened the problem following a similarly deflating, 25-point loss to the Pacers at home on Nov. 19.
After two intense practices Heat players likened to being back in training camp, Miami came out at home and ended Boston’s 16-game winning streak. The Heat then followed that with an impressive win over the Timberwolves and beat the Bulls to open the road trip.
That was followed by Miami allowing a combined 140 points in the first half against the Cavs and Knicks.
According to Heat staff, it was the fourth time in franchise history that the Heat surrendered 65 or more points in the first half in consecutive games.
“We just look like some games we have a lot of energy and come out battling,” Heat guard Goran Dragic said. “But some games I don’t know how to describe it but it’s like we didn’t eat all day. It’s disturbing because this is our job and you want to be hungry. Every game should be like that. You should think like it’s your last game. If you relax too much then of course, those kinds of games are going to happen like tonight. The season goes by fast and we don’t want to be in the same situation as last year and you have to win every game until the end.”
Unlike the two-day break it had following the Pacers loss, the Heat doesn’t have much time to go “back to training camp” during the next few days.
After playing the Hornets (8-12) on Friday at home, the difficulty level picks up again with the Heat hosting the defending NBA champion Warriors on Sunday, then traveling to San Antonio to face the Spurs on Wednesday.
“It’s something that this team will overcome and the sooner the better,” Spoelstra said. “But we will overcome it, because we have shown that we can play much, much better basketball, regardless of whether Hassan’s playing or not. We just weren’t able to put it together tonight.”