Speaking of the NBA’s movement toward lineups filled with spread-the-floor shooters, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra put it simply this week: “The league forces you to adapt or die.”
The question is whether the Heat, with its current personnel, can sufficiently adjust.
Defensively, four times in the past two weeks, Miami has been burned in losses by lineups that feature either five skilled shooters or four shooters surrounded by a formidable center.
Offensively, the Heat has dropped to 28th in three-point shooting percentage, at 31.3. That’s even worse than last year, when Miami was 24th at 33.5.
As the NBA game has evolved in the past few years, there has been an increasing correlation between three-point shooting and team success. The top 11 teams in three-point accuracy all made the playoffs last season.
The Heat thought its three-point game would be bolstered by the addition of Gerald Green and Josh McRoberts’ return to health.
But McRoberts, a career 33.7 percent three-point shooter, is 3 for 22 on threes (13.6 percent). Green (36.5 career) is shooting 28.6 percent (18 for 63).
“I haven’t really shot the ball this year like I wanted to,” Green said.
The Heat’s starting backcourt also struggles to make threes. Dwyane Wade is shooting 27.3 percent beyond the arc, not far off his 28.8 career average. Goran Dragic is shooting 32.1 percent on threes.
Defensively, Heat opponents are shooting 32.2 percent on threes, ranking Miami fourth-best in the league. That’s a big defensive improvement over last season, when the Heat finished 20th in that category (35.3).
But teams that effectively spread the floor have torched Miami in four recent Heat losses. Detroit shot 16 for 31 on threes against Miami, Boston 8 for 20, and this week, Washington was 9 for 18 and Charlotte 11 for 27. The Celtics, Wizards and Hornets all played centers who can shoot threes.
The Heat’s defensive system relies on protecting the paint, helping defenders who were beaten by their man and rotating to three-point shooters. So does the system need changing or does the Heat simply need to execute better?
“We just have to do it better,” Chris Bosh said. “In screens, we always say we want to contain the ball two on two. If we don’t, now everything else comes into effect.”
Spoelstra said: “You are going to deal with speed, space one way or the other, [with] every single team now. Most teams you would even face four [perimeters]. It was unique when teams played with a space four and now teams are going to the next level of that. … It forced you to adapt. It forces you to get uncomfortable.”
Wade said the difficulty defending lineups with skilled-shooting big men isn’t unique to Miami. “Right now, everyone is trying to figure out how to play against the small ball, the small fours and the small fives that can shoot,” he said. “We’ve got to make adjustments faster.”
▪ Heat center Hassan Whiteside missed Thursday's practice with an ankle injury.
He said he hopes to play Friday at Indianapolis, but it will depend on how he feels.
HEAT ON WARRIORS
If quantifying the greatest achievements of the Big Three era Heat, the two championships and four consecutive Finals appearances would rank clearly at the top. But the Heat’s 27-game winning streak, accomplished in the third year of LeBron James’ four years in Miami, would register a strong third on the list.
Before this season, that Heat streak was the second-longest in NBA history, six short of the Lakers’ 33-game run in 1971-72. But the Heat’s streak would be pushed down to third all-time if the Golden State Warriors beat the Boston Celtics on Friday in the sixth game of a seven-game road trip.
The Warriors won their final four games to end last season (pre-playoffs) and their first 23 this season, and the NBA does not distinguish between winning streaks accomplished over two seasons, compared with one.
“What they’re doing is very impressive, no doubt about it,” said Wade, one of four remaining Heat players from the 27-game streak.
But Wade said there is an important distinction between the two streaks.
“They started the season that way,” Wade said of the Warriors. “Ours was in the middle of the season. After going through the grind, then we hit a 27-game winning streak towards the middle or the end of the season. The games pile up; it gets harder and harder on your body.”
In fact, when the Heat’s winning streak ended in Chicago, 101-97, on March 28, 2013, “Chicago was probably cheering in their locker room, and we were, too,” Wade said this week. “I’ve never been relieved to lose a ballgame, but I was OK with that one.”
Miami Herald sportswriter Ethan J. Skolnick contributed to this report.
Friday: Heat at Pacers
When/where: 7 p.m., Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis.
TV/radio: Sun Sports; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish).
Series: Pacers lead 59-41.
Scouting report: The Heat has lost eight in a row overall in Indiana, including a 90-87 loss on Nov. 6, and is 9-42 all time in Indianapolis. Dwyane Wade scored nine points in that loss (4-for-15 shooting).