Miami Heat

Defensive challenged Miami Heat playing with little margin for error

Dwyane Wade scored 25 points Sunday night against the Grizzlies, but showed frustration with some misses by teammates.
Dwyane Wade scored 25 points Sunday night against the Grizzlies, but showed frustration with some misses by teammates. AP

Shawne Williams missed a wide-open three-pointer from the corner and, across the court, Dwyane Wade spun around and slapped his hands together in frustration.

In the NBA, where the run of play moves so fast that even trained referees sometimes have trouble processing the action, there are any number of moments in a game when mental lapses by a player lead to points for opponents. This is a brief account of one of those moments.

In the fourth quarter of the Heat’s loss to the Grizzlies on Sunday, Wade’s visible pouting in transition moved him out of position on the court and out of focus mentally. It was Williams’ second miss from the corner in consecutive possessions for the Heat, and Wade was losing patience. With Wade distracted for only a second, Memphis forward Tayshaun Prince raced down the opposite side of the court and into position for a three-pointer in transition.

The ball found him, Prince set his feet and Wade was lost in no-man’s land.

Prince’s three-pointer capped a quick five-point run for the Grizzlies and turned a two-possession game for the Heat into a nine-point deficit.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called a timeout in an attempt to stymie the Grizzlies’ momentum, but Wade then committed a turnover, and the Grizzlies scored once again in transition to give themselves a 90-79 lead with 7:48 to play.

“We had some good looks at the basket,” Chris Bosh said. “I think Shawne had back-to-back corner threes. We missed them both, and I think we let that affect us too much. They came right back down and got transition buckets back-to-back, and that’s the time when you need stops.”

All of this isn’t to single out Wade as the source of blame for the Heat’s fifth loss in six games. It wasn’t Wade’s fault the Heat lost — far from it. Wade led the Heat (9-11) with 25 points and six assists, so he did his share. The point, though, is a valid one, and something the Heat must address.

Because of injuries and inexperience, the team’s margin for error is currently close to nothing, and a lack of consistent defense isn’t helping the matter.

In the past, Wade could argue with officials after missed baskets or plead for calls in transition, and the Heat’s talent buffer of athletic ability and hard-earned experience would absorb the mental breakdown. For the time being at least, there is no such cushion for mistakes.

“I thought we did what we needed to do game-plan wise as much as we could against a very good team,” Wade said. “They hit some shots against what we wanted to do. It was a good fight.

“Obviously, at the end of the game, the score went away, but I thought we fought well. We just didn’t have enough to win it.”

The Grizzlies shot 58 percent from the field against the Heat, despite Marc Gasol going 1 of 6 from the field. That’s an astounding statistic and one that highlights just how far behind the Heat is at the moment against the NBA’s best teams.

“They didn’t even hurt us in their normal game,” Spoelstra said. “That’s what was disappointing. It was all the miscellaneous actions: the cuts to start the game with Tony Allen, some offensive putbacks, the transition opportunities off of our turnovers again, and the random drives where there was no situation and it ended up being six or seven seconds on the clock and somebody would just line us up and beat us off the dribble for a bucket.”

Spoelstra has a long list of grievances at this point.

“It wasn’t really their power paint postup game that you expect,” Spoelstra said.

No, there are many ways to beat the Heat these days. Just choose one and play.

Five of the Heat’s past six opponents have shot better than 54 percent from the field, and things don’t get any easier this week. The team did not practice Monday and a virus is currently burning through the locker room. Chris Andersen, Norris Cole and Josh McRoberts have all been sick. A difficult back-to-back against the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets awaits the Heat on Tuesday and Wednesday, and on Friday the Heat plays in Salt Lake City, where it hasn’t won since December 2010.

After that, the Heat is back at home Sunday against the Chicago Bulls.

“They’re trying to win a championship,” Bosh said of the Grizzlies, “and you get that sense when you play these guys. They know each other well, they know what they’re doing.”

That was the Heat this time last year, but those days are gone for now.

Tuesday: Heat at Suns

When/where: 9 p.m.; U.S. Airways Center, Phoenix.

TV/radio: Sun Sports; WAXY 104.3 FM, 790 AM and WAQI 710 AM (Spanish).

Series: Suns lead 31-20.

Noteworthy: The sieve that is the Heat defense is letting through buckets in bunches. The Grizzlies shot better than 60 percent from the field for most of the game Sunday against the Heat. … The Heat has won a franchise-best eight in a row against the Suns, including six in a row in Phoenix, but those streaks are in serious jeopardy of ending on Tuesday. The Heat has lost four in a row and five of its past six games. … Norris Cole is still struggling with an injured left middle finger he dislocated against the Clippers on Nov.20. Since the injury, Cole is shooting less than 26 percent from the field. … Chris Andersen (ankle) is out against the Suns. Luol Deng played with an injured hand Sunday and is listed as probable against Suns.

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