Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 106-82 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday at State Farm Arena.
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1. The Heat (19-19) just can’t figure out how to beat the rebuilding Hawks. After Sunday’s blowout loss, Miami is now 0-3 against Atlanta this season. That means the Hawks (12-27) have recorded one-fourth of their wins against the Heat.
What’s been the Heat’s biggest issue against the Hawks? It’s been different each game.
In the first matchup on Nov. 3 in Atlanta, Miami’s defense struggled. The Hawks shot 52.3 percent to defeat the Heat 123-118.
In the second matchup on Nov. 27 in Miami, the game was played at the Hawks’ up-tempo pace and the Heat struggled to keep up. It was Miami’s second fastest-paced game of the season, and the Heat ended up committing 20 turnovers in a 115-113 loss.
In Sunday’s lopsided defeat, the Heat’s offense let it down. Miami scored a season-low 82 points on 35.6 percent shooting from the field and 5 of 34 shooting on threes.
It was the Heat’s worst offensive performance of the season. Miami posted a season-low offensive rating of 83.7 in the loss, and is now 3-7 this season when finishing with an offensive rating below 100.
“It’s doing things with a purpose, a sense of urgency, focus, details,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked about the Heat’s offensive woes against the Hawks. “Things we’ve been doing very well. This was not our best game. They had a lot to say with it. They played well, and we paid the price for it.”
The Heat’s defense became an issue, too, in the second half.
After the Hawks made just 31.1 percent of their shots in the first half, they shot 63 percent over the final two quarters to outscore the Heat 68-45 in the second half.
“You’re only going to hold a team down for so long,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said. “So they started making shots and then it seemed like our fight just went away a little bit from that point on. So once they got up, we couldn’t come back. We weren’t making enough shots. And defensively, we just weren’t there.”
Yes, Atlanta has played at the league’s fastest pace this season. But Sunday wasn’t about pace, with the game played at a speed of 98 possessions per team. That’s even slower than the Heat’s usual pace.
Sunday was just a bad all-around performance for Miami.
“We’re 0-3 versus Atlanta,” Wade said. “We can’t figure them out. Let’s see if we can do better versus other teams. But this team is kicking our butts.”
2. Even in a game the Heat needed offense, Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington did not play.
As has become the norm, Spoelstra played 10 on Sunday. Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside started, and Wade, Tyler Johnson, Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk and Derrick Jones Jr. played off the bench.
It marks Waiters’ second consecutive DNP-CD (did not play, coach’s decision), and it was Ellington’s ninth DNP-CD in the past 13 games.
Asked if Waiters or Ellington could have helped against the Hawks, Spoelstra said: “Yeah, I don’t know. When you have a game like this, anything would have been a better answer than what I did or what we did. So, it’s just all across the board.”
Waiters’ current situation comes after his return from ankle surgery that forced him to miss the past year of games. He’s been available for the past three games, and has played in just one. And that one — Wednesday’s win over the Cavaliers — was with Wade out because of an illness.
“I don’t know. I just suit up,” Waiters said. “At the end of the day, that’s the coach. He controls all that. That’s out of my control. The only thing I can do is be ready.”
Ellington has fallen out of the rotation, with the emergence of Jones. After setting a career-high and team record with 227 made three-pointers last season, Ellington has played in just 20 of Miami’s 38 games.
The rotation decisions are only going to get tougher once Goran Dragic returns from right knee surgery that’s expected to keep him out until February’s All-Star break. That will give the Heat 13 rotation-level players, and Spoelstra has been using a 10-man rotation for most of the season.
3. The Heat continues to be an inefficient free-throw shooting team. Along with the rest of Miami’s offensive struggles, it also shot 15 of 27 (55.6 percent) from the foul line.
It’s just a continuation of the Heat’s struggles in this area, as it’s been the second-worst free-throw shooting team in the league this season at 69.6 percent. In total, Miami has left 278 points at the foul line this season, which is an average of 7.3 per game.
A lot of it has to do with Whiteside’s free-throw struggles, as he’s shooting 44.8 percent from the charity stripe.
4. Rebounding has been a strength for the Heat during its recent winning stretch, creating second-chance opportunities for a Miami offense that needs them. But rebounding was a weakness on Sunday.
Atlanta dominated Miami on the glass, winning the battle on the boards 59-41. It’s the second-most rebounds the Heat has been outrebounded by this season, only behind a 22-rebound margin in a 111-84 loss to the Jazz.
Miami was outscored 17-12 by Atlanta in second-chance points.
During the Heat’s 12-5 stretch that preceded Sunday’s game in Atlanta, Miami outrebounded teams by an average of five per game. That trend came to a screeching halt against the Hawks.
5. There was at least one positive moment for the Heat on Sunday.
With all of the Heat fans in attendance to watch Wade’s final game in Atlanta, there was one play they can take home and smile about … even in a 24-point loss.
In the first quarter, DeAndre Bembry challenged Wade’s breakaway transition layup. Wade responded by just tossing the ball over his head for the high-flying Jones to finish with a dunk.
“Once the ball came to me a little slow, I knew the defense had a chance to recover,” Wade said of the play. “I looked back at D-Jones, and I saw he had a step on his man. As you guys know, I played with a player [LeBron James] that once he had a step on his man, you could just throw it anywhere. So I threw it back. I didn’t even see what happened. I just threw it back and I heard the crowd.
“Just trying to do something for the fans tonight. That was the moment we gave them, probably the only moment we gave them to cheer for.”