The slip-sliding continued for the Miami Heat on Wednesday night and soon they could find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to a playoff spot.
Even on a night Josh Richardson poured in a career-high 30 points and made seven three pointers and Goran Dragic matched it with 30 points of his own – it wasn’t enough. The Houston Rockets, playing on the second night of a back-to-back, rode 41 points from James Harden and another 24 from Chris Paul to hand the Heat its fifth consecutive loss 109-101 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Heat (29-26) remain in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, but the Detroit Pistons, winners of five in a row and now 27-26, are gaining on them along with Philadelphia (26-25).
Miami trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half before Dragic, who was presented with his All-Star jersey before the game, rallied the Heat by scoring 10 points of his 20 first half points over the final 2:03 of the second quarter. Miami went into the break down 61-57.
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The Heat trailed 67-59 with 9:52 to play in the third quarter when Richardson went on a personal 9-0 run to put his team ahead for the first time since it was 7-6. But the lead was shortlived.
Miami eventually took an 87-85 on Richardson’s sixth three-pointer of the night with 9:17 remaining. But when Richardson went to the bench so did the Heat's offense. Houston went on a 9-0 run and Miami didn’t score again until Richardson hit his career-high seventh three of the night with 5:13 remaining. Chris Paul answered on the other end with a three to extend Houston's lead back out to 97-90.
But Miami could never catch the Rockets, who own the second-best record in the league at 40-13 and are only a half game of Golden State for the best record in the West.
With Kelly Olynyk (left shoulder) and Wayne Ellington (right shoulder) missing their first regular season games of the season, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra unveiled his 18th different starting lineup of the season with swingman Derrick Jones Jr., called up from Sioux Falls on Wednesday morning, replacing Olynyk.
The Rockets were minus two key rotation players too. Reigning three-point contest champion Eric Gordon (back) and forward Ryan Anderson (ankle) were held out of Houston's rotation.