Miami Heat

Five takeaways: This game wasn’t about Heat’s struggles. It was about LeBron’s dominance

Heat coach Spoelstra on LeBron: ‘I’ve seen it before on our side’

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talks to the media after their 113-97 lost against Los Angeles Lakers an a NBA basketball game at AmericanAirlines Arena on Sunday, November 18, 2018 in Miami.
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Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talks to the media after their 113-97 lost against Los Angeles Lakers an a NBA basketball game at AmericanAirlines Arena on Sunday, November 18, 2018 in Miami.

Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 113-97 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers (9-7) on Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena.

1. It looked like LeBron James really, really wanted to finally win a game in Miami (6-10). The four-time MVP entered Sunday with a 0-4 record in games he’s played at AmericanAirlines Arena since leaving the Heat in the summer of 2014. And 0-7 if you count the games that James missed due to rest as a member of the Cavaliers during that stretch.

James snapped that slump with an incredible performance, finishing with 51 points on 19 of 31 shooting from the field and 6 of 8 shooting from three-point range to earn his first victory in Miami since leaving the Heat. It’s the most points he’s ever scored against the Heat in a single game, topping the 47 he scored against Miami on March 12, 2006. It’s also tied for the third-most points a player has ever scored against the Heat in a single game, only behind a 52-point performance from Isaiah Thomas in 2016 and a 53-point outing from Willie Burton in 1994.

No matter how the good or bad the Heat has been this season, it’s not going to win many games when James is on like he was Sunday. James’ team is 10-2 in regular-season games he’s finished with 50 or more points in during his career.

“I’ve seen it before on our side,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of James. “But no question, when he’s hitting the three like that, that changes the equation a little bit. We probably watched that too much. That’s on me. We probably should’ve gone more aggressively to take the ball out of his hands at some point in the second half.”

Even after the win, though, James is still 5-13 all-time as a visitor at AmericanAirlines Arena, which is an underwhelming mark for an all-time great.

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James talks to the media after their 113-97 win over the Miami Heat an a NBA basketball game at AmericanAirlines Arena on Sunday, November 18, 2018 in Miami.

2. Hassan Whiteside has lost his touch around the basket lately. The Heat’s starting center struggled around the rim for the second consecutive game Sunday, scoring six on 2 of 9 shooting. He missed four of his six shots within six feet of the basket.

This comes after Whiteside’s 6-of-15 shooting performance in Friday’s loss the Pacers. He missed six layups in that game.

“He’s healthy. These are the ebbs and flows of the season,” Spoelstra said of Whiteside. “You get a few weeks into the season and I don’t think anybody’s legs are feeling incredibly fresh, but he understands how important it is for him to play with great force and impacting at the rim on both ends of the court.”

Most of these missed shots near the basket, if not all of them, are makeable ones for Whiteside. The Heat needs him to convert on a high percentage of these, with an offense that’s been below average to start this season. Miami owns the league’s 19th-best offensive rating (scoring 106.4 points per 100 possessions).

3. Looking for any bit of good Heat news? Forward James Johnson made his season debut Sunday after missing the entire preseason and the first 15 games of the season as he recovered from May surgery to repair a sports hernia.

Johnson played off the bench, finishing with eight points on 2 of 8 shooting in 15 minutes. Spoelstra said before the game the Heat will “ease him back into this,” meaning there will be a minutes restriction on Johnson in his first few games back. But on Sunday, James’ minutes were limited by foul trouble.

“What I saw was that he needs game minutes to get into a rhythm,” Spoelstra said of Johnson’s first game back. “I wasn’t expecting him to come in and play at a great flow. Your timing from practice to games is different, but he needed those minutes. Every single one of those minutes he needed and we’ll just continue to work on that.”

4. The Heat has been bad at home. With Sunday’s loss, Miami is now 3-6 at AmericanAirlines Arena this season. The Heat actually has a better road record (3-4) than it does at home.

The Heat has finished with a losing home record just once during Spoelstra’s first 10 seasons as head coach — in 2014-15 with a 20-21 mark. That was also the only season the Heat ended the regular season with a losing overall record under Spoelstra.

With teams almost always ending the season with a worse road record than home record, the Heat has to turn things around at AmericanAirlines Arena to have any chance of making the playoffs. With five of the Heat’s next seven games coming in Miami, now would be a good time to string together some home wins.

5. This is definitely not the start the Heat was hoping for. Miami is 6-10 this season and has dropped eight of its last 11 games. And a look at the numbers shows a team that’s been below average so far. The Heat is ranked 19th in offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) and 15th in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) this season.

What needs to change for the Heat to turn things around?

“I don’t know, but we’re going to get to work,” Spoelstra said. “Our staff is going to get to work and as we work guys back into health, we’ll just roll up our sleeves and be solutions-based.”

If you’re looking for any type of hope, the Heat also started slow last year. Miami was 7-9 after 16 games last season and went on to win 18 of its next 26 games. The Heat lost a lot of home games at the start of last season, too, dropping five of its first eight games at AmericanAirlines Arena.

“It starts with practice,” Johnson said when asked how the Heat can get things going in the right direction again. “We’re going to get some chances to finally get some good practices in this week and we’re going to go from there. We know what our mistakes are. We know the solutions for them. We’ve just got to fix them.”

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