Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 102-96 loss to the Sacramento Kings (29-26) on Friday at Golden 1 Center. Miami (25-28) is now 1-1 on its current five-game West Coast trip.
1. What went wrong in the fourth quarter? Just look at the Heat’s offensive numbers.
After building a 17-point lead in the third quarter, the Heat’s advantage shrunk to eight entering the final period. Miami’s offense simply wasn’t good enough to hold that lead.
In a fourth quarter the Kings won 27-13, the Heat made just 6 of 24 shots and committed six turnovers. Making it even worse, the Heat missed all four of its free-throw attempts in the period.
“Overall, they stepped up their pressure and we weren’t able to respond with detail, focus, execution and they were able to take control in the fourth quarter,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Thirteen points obviously in that fourth quarter was not enough, I don’t think it would have required a 30-point quarter. But lower 20s?”
Besides Josh Richardson’s 4-of-5 shooting performance, the rest of Miami’s players combined to make just 2 of 19 shots in the fourth. Justise Winslow was 0 of 5, Dwyane Wade was 1 of 6 and James Johnson was 1 of 4.
One could argue center Hassan Whiteside should have been on the court more down the stretch. Whiteside was dominant with 17 points, 19 rebounds and three steals, but played just 4:54 in the final quarter.
“I mean, I talk to [Spoelstra] about it,” Whiteside said of the way he’s used during games. “But at the end of the day, he got all the power. So whenever he wants me out there, I go out there.”
Miami’s meltdown was especially disappointing because it came after three quarters of efficient offensive basketball. The Heat scored 83 points on 50 percent shooting during the first 36 minutes of the game before unraveling in the fourth.
At the end of the night, Miami finished with a team shooting percentage of 43.2 percent and 20 turnovers that Sacramento turned into 22 points. The Heat is 0-6 this season when committing 20 or more turnovers in a game.
“You can’t turn the ball over too much versus this team,” Wade said. “They hit big shots, they ran their offense very well. For a young team, they did a good job at the end of getting what they wanted. On the other end, we weren’t able to score enough to try to keep them at bay.”
2. With Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington off the Heat’s roster, Dion Waiters made his first start of the season. It wasn’t his best individual performance, but Miami’s starting unit fared well.
Miami’s 20th different starting lineup of the season (Waiters, Winslow, Richardson, Kelly Olynyk and Whiteside) outscored Sacramento by 12 points in 12 minutes of action together. This five-man group had played just eight minutes together before Friday’s contest.
“There are some good things to take away from that lineup that started the game,” Winslow said.
As for Waiters, he was inefficient. The combo guard scored 12 on 4-of-12 shooting, to go with one rebound and two assists in a season-high 32 minutes.
“It felt good. It just felt good,” Waiters said of his first start. “Now it’s about getting the rust off and things like that, and just being more aggressive. Just trying to go out there and make plays and just get back in the swing of things. Really, it’s pretty much downhill from here.”
Since returning from ankle surgery on Jan. 2, Waiters is averaging 8.2 points on 38.3 percent shooting from the field and 31.2 percent shooting from three-point range, 2.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 20.2 minutes in 15 games.
3. Free-throw shooting has already cost the Heat a handful of games this season, and those struggles popped up again in Sacramento.
The Heat shot just 9 of 19 from the foul line in Friday’s loss. Miami has been the league’s second-worst free-throw shooting team this season at 68.9 percent, ahead of only the Los Angeles Lakers.
“There’s not any more that we can do,” Spoelstra said when asked what the team can do to improve at the foul line. “We’ve explored everything we possibly can and guys have really worked at it. As long as we’re being aggressive and getting to the line.”
It’s probably time to label this roster as a bad free-throw shooting team. 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. There was a really scary moment for the Heat during Friday’s game.
Wade exited the contest with 10 seconds remaining in the first quarter after taking a hard fall on a rebound attempt. Wade’s head snapped back and looked to hit the court. After laying motionless on the court, Heat trainers helped Wade up and he was able to walk to the locker room on his own power as he rubbed the back of his head.
Wade eventually was able to get back in the game with 4:35 remaining in the second quarter, as the Heat announced that he passed the concussion protocol and suffered a right elbow contusion on the play.
“I don’t really know what happened,” Wade said of the fall. “I just know I went up for the rebound and I ended up on my [butt]. And then my head hit the ground. No concussion or anything, it was good enough to get back out there and try to give it a go.”
Wade went on to finish Friday’s loss with 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting, four rebounds and four assists.
“Just some contusions just from the fall, the impact from the fall,” he said of how he felt after the game. “But I’m sure I’ll be more sore tomorrow than I am right now. But I’ll be hopefully good by the time we play [Sunday against the Warriors].”
5. What comes next for the Heat won’t be easy. Actually, it’s the opposite of easy.
Next on Miami’s schedule is one of the toughest back-to-back sets in the league, one that includes games against the Western Conference’s top two teams. Miami travels to face the potent Golden State Warriors on Sunday before taking on the Denver Nuggets on Monday.
And this brutal back-to-back comes at a time that Miami is losing ground in the standings. With four losses in its past five games, the Heat is now just one-half game ahead of the Detroit Pistons for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.
Miami is also one-half game behind the seventh-place Charlotte Hornets and two games behind the sixth-place Brooklyn Nets.