Spoelstra: “We gave up a big fourth quarter”
Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 105-89 loss to the Chicago Bulls (12-40) on Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
1. When ranking the Heat’s (24-25) worst losses of the season, Wednesday’s defeat has to be up there.
Chicago entered with the league’s fourth-worst record, was missing its top player Zach LaVine because of a sprained right ankle and was playing on the second night of a back-to-back set after losing to the Nets in New York the night before. The Bulls had dropped 14 of their previous 15 games.
How did it happen? The Heat was bad on both ends.
On offense, Miami shot an inefficient 38.2 percent from the field and made just 12 of its season-high 42 three-point shot attempts. Many of them were open looks, but they just didn’t fall.
“It’s the NBA. A lot of the time when you get those wide open looks, you’re not going to get a better look than that,” wing player Josh Richardson said when asked if the Heat was too reliant on threes against the Bulls. “I think we took good shots today, but they weren’t falling.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra agreed.
“A lot of them were wide open,” Spoelstra said. “You turn down those, you’re not guaranteed you’re going to get another one. We were pretty inefficient obviously there, but we were also inefficient in the paint — 18 for 42. Some of those I thought should’ve been better decisions maybe to spray for a better one. Some of them we just missed.”
On defense, Miami allowed Chicago to score 105 on 51.3 percent shooting. What makes the Heat’s defensive performance even worse is the fact that the Bulls own the league’s worst offensive rating.
The Heat didn’t have an answer for Bulls forward Bobby Portis, who scored 22 of his 26 points in the second half. Wing player Wayne Selden also hurt the Heat with 20 points and eight assists.
“Sometimes when we miss shots, that affects our defensive concentration and we gave up a big fourth quarter, and you could just feel missed shots sap some of our energy and resolve on the other end,” Spoelstra said. “Things aren’t always going to go our way offensively. You just have to continue to compete and find a way. We’ve won five or six games when we’ve shot under 40 percent, but the last two or three weeks our offense has kind of influenced our energy on the other end and we just have to figure that out. It starts with me. I’ve got to figure that out.”
With Wednesday’s loss, Miami is now 13-11 against teams under the .500 mark this season.
2. Spoelstra didn’t like the way center Hassan Whiteside and the rest of the Heat’s starting lineup began the game.
Whiteside was pulled just 3:35 into the contest after he was beaten on a a few plays near the rim on the defensive end. The Bulls finished the first quarter with 22 paint points and a 31-21 lead over the Heat.
“I just didn’t like the energy of the first group,” Spoelstra said when asked why Whiteside was subbed out early on. “[Whiteside] was involved in about three or four plays. The way he started the third quarter, with that passion, is what I want out of him consistently and it’s not necessarily what I want. It’s what this team needs.”
As a whole, Miami’s starting lineup struggled offensively. Whiteside (3 of 6), James Johnson (1 of 6), Josh Richardson (4 of 15), Wayne Ellington (5 of 13) and Justise Winslow (6 of 17) combining to shoot 19 of 57 (33.3 percent) from the field.
This five-man combination was outscored by five points in its 10 minutes together Wednesday.
Will this prompt another change to the Heat’s starting lineup? Miami has already used 18 different starting lineups this season.
3. Even with Tyler Johnson back from a sore left calf that forced him to miss one game, Ellington was again in the Heat’s starting lineup.
After scoring 19 second-half points as a starter in Sunday’s win over the Knicks, Ellington finished Wednesday’s loss to the Bulls with 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting from the field and 3-of-11 shooting from three-point range in 33 minutes.
“I just wanted to monitor Tyler,” Spoelstra said of his decision to start Ellington instead of Johnson. “I thought it was easier if I brought him in off the bench. Hopefully, he feels OK with those minutes. I probably played him more than I anticipated playing him. I thought I was going to be able to control the point when I did. He almost played 30 minutes, anyway. “
Widely regarded as the Heat’s top three-point shooter, Ellington has knocked down 7 of 22 threes in this recent two-game stint as a starter.
Before this stretch, Ellington had fallen out of the Heat’s rotation. He has already received 19 did not play-coach’s decisions this season after setting a career high and team record with 227 made three-pointers last season.
Ellington said earlier this month he would not rule out going to Heat management to request a trade to a team where he can play more. Ellington, signed to a one-year, $6.3 million contract, has the right to approve any trade.
Trading Ellington might make sense for Miami because the Heat’s current tax bill would be $9.7 million if payroll isn’t lowered by the final day of the regular season.
But now that Ellington is actually playing, the question is: Does the Heat change how it approaches this situation?
4. James Johnson continued his inconsistent season Wednesday.
The Heat’s starting power forward finished with two points on 1-of-6 shooting in 18 minutes. He’s averaging 7.7 points on 41.8 percent shooting, 3.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists this season.
Johnson’s numbers are nowhere close to last season’s averages of 10.8 points on 50.3 percent shooting, 4.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists.
As soon as Johnson looks like he’s returning to form after offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia (13 points and three assists in Sunday’s win over the Knicks), a quiet game is usually around the corner. The Heat has been outscored by 56 points with him on the court this season.
With Derrick Jones Jr. expected to miss at least the next six weeks because of a knee injury, the Heat is hoping it can rely on Johnson to play more minutes to make up for the loss of Jones. Miami feels like Johnson is ready and Johnson feels like he’s ready for a bigger role.
Finding some type of consistency is the next step, though.
5. This loss is already painful for the Heat. But considering what’s ahead on Miami’s schedule, it’s extremely painful.
Wednesday marked the end of the Heat’s three-game stretch against three of the worst teams in the NBA. Miami couldn’t take full advantage of this soft spot in its schedule, posting a 2-1 record (Friday’s win over the Cavaliers, Sunday’s win over the Knicks and Wednesday’s loss to the Bulls).
Next up for the Heat is one of the toughest parts of its schedule. Six of Miami’s next eight games come on the road and against teams currently occupying playoff spots, with matchups against the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets included in there.
Instead of entering this brutal stretch one game above the .500 mark, it goes into it one game below the .500 mark.
“If you’re a competitor, you love where this schedule’s going for us,” Spoelstra said of the tough road ahead. “If you’re meek and you’re shy about competition, then you’re not looking forward to this. We have a bunch of competitors in the locker room. Nothing in this league is easy. We haven’t played the way we wanted to in January. This closes out the month and it overall has been a disappointing month for us, but we have an opportunity to bounce back in February and change that.”