Miami Heat

Five takeaways: Spoelstra calls loss to Jazz, the Heat’s ‘worst game of the year.’ He’s not wrong

Erik Spoelstra: ‘This was our worst game of the year’

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talks about Wednesday night's loss to the Utah Jazz.
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Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talks about Wednesday night's loss to the Utah Jazz.

Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 111-84 loss to the Utah Jazz (14-15) on Wednesday at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

1. Erik Spoelstra called Wednesday’s loss to the Jazz the Heat’s “worst game of the year,” and he’s not wrong. Miami (11-16) trailed by as many as 42 points. And the final 27-point margin — Miami’s most lopsided loss of the season — doesn’t reflect just how bad the game was for the Heat, as it trailed by 36 points with 2:17 to play but closed the night on a 9-0 run to cut into the Jazz’s lead.

“Clearly the entire night was a struggle for us,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t have an explanation for it. There’s no excuse for it. This was our worst game of the year.

Let’s look at some numbers that show just how bad the night was for Miami.

The Heat finished with a season-low 84 points. In fact, it’s the lowest amount of points Miami has scored in a game since defeating the Jazz 84-74 in Salt Lake City on Nov. 10, 2017.

The Jazz outrebounded the Heat 52-30. Those 30 rebounds represent a season-low for Miami, with the Heat now 27-72 all time when finishing with 30 or less rebounds in a game.

The Heat made a season-low 29 shots. It marks the lowest amount of shots Miami has made in a game since hitting 27 in a loss to the Pistons on Nov. 23, 2016.

“This kind of game is not in our makeup and it’s not acceptable,” Spoelstra said. “I really don’t have an explanation for it. They jumped on us from an effort, energy standpoint, toughness. We were bobbling passes, traveling, missing catches, and then it became a domino going down the wrong way. And we just couldn’t get it back.”

Even with all those ugly numbers, it’s just one loss. The Jazz actually lost by 50 points to the Mavericks earlier this season, so it happens. The important thing for the Heat is that it leaves Wednesday in the past and moves on.

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2. The lineup the Heat used to start Wednesday’s game had never played together entering the contest, and its debut did not go well. The five-man combination of Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, James Johnson and Bam Adebayo did not produce positive results in its first-ever minutes together, as the Jazz began the game on a 15-2 run over the first 5:11 before Spoelstra made his first substitution.

“That didn’t work out,” Spoelstra said when asked about the starting group he turned to Wednesday. “The way this year is going, and that’s what I told our guys, everything is on the table. It’s not like we’re playing .600 basketball where we can just go with what’s working. We got to get to another level. I’m not going to necessarily indict this starting lineup because every rotation that we had in there didn’t really play well. So it’s tough to really evaluate that.”

To be fair, this lineup also started the second half and played it even with the Jazz 10-10 before the Heat’s first substitution. But the poor start to the game set the tone for the rest of the night, as Miami ended the first quarter in a 40-15 hole and trailed by as many as 42 points in the game.

You can probably expect the Heat’s starting lineup to look different in its next game Friday against the Grizzlies. It could be as simple as inserting center Hassan Whiteside, who is expected to rejoin the team for the contest after missing the first four games of the trip due to the birth of his son, into his usual starting spot.

3. The Heat continues to be a bad free-throw shooting team. Miami entered Wednesday’s game with the league’s third-worst free-throw percentage at 70.7 percent, and that trend carried over to its game against the Jazz with a 14-of-24 performance at the line.

For an aggressive drive-and-kick Heat offense that’s drawing the eighth-most free-throw attempts per game, that’s a lot of points at the foul line it’s missing out on. And for a Heat offense that owns the league’s sixth-worst offensive rating, wasting those easy-point opportunities hurts.

This is nothing new for this team, though. In the first two seasons the core of this group played together, the Heat finished 2016-17 with the league’s worst free-throw shooting percentage at 70.6 percent and 2017-18 with the ninth-worst number at 75.5 percent.

4. Welcome back, Wayne Ellington. After a three-game absence from the court, Ellington played his first minutes of the trip Wednesday against the Jazz. He finished with five points on 2-of-7 shooting from the field and 1-of-5 shooting from three-point range in 17 minutes.

Ellington missed the first two games of the trip due to the death of his grandmother, and did not play in Monday’s loss to the Lakers despite being available.

“It felt great to be out there,” Ellington said after playing Wednesday for the first time on the trip. “I felt great with my conditioning. A little bit of my rhythm was a little off. There’s nothing you can really do to simulate game rhythm, but that will come.”

One crazy number that was part of Ellington’s stat line: He was a team-best plus-seven in a 27-point loss. That’s hard to do in a lopsided defeat.

5. Despite a bad night in Utah, a successful trip is still possible for the Heat. The goal entering the season-long six-game trip was to split and come home 3-3.

That’s still attainable for Miami, which is now 2-2 on the trip. The problem is after starting it 2-0, some of the expectations changed and 4-2 seemed realistic. But win one of the final two games on the trip — Friday vs. Grizzlies and Sunday vs. Pelicans — and this will be a successful stretch away from home. Win both to return to Miami with a 4-2 trip, and it was a great one.

“Just ball this one up and throw this one out, “ Dwyane Wade said after the Heat’s loss to the Jazz. “When you’re on a six-game road trip, all you’re trying to do go is go 3-3. And if you go 4-2, it’s an amazing trip. So we got two on this trip already. Tonight, they whipped our butt. But we don’t harp on it. We’ve got to get ready for the next game.”

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.

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