Miami Heat

Struggling Heat loses fourth in a row

Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) goes up for a shot as Miami Heat's Danny Granger (22) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015, in Houston.
Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) goes up for a shot as Miami Heat's Danny Granger (22) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015, in Houston. AP

It’s too early to say the season is spiraling out of control on the Heat, but these next few weeks might truly test the confidence of this team in transition.

The Heat has lost four consecutive games after Saturday’s 115-79 loss to the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center, and the schedule only gets more difficult starting Sunday.

The Heat is playing like the season ended after that upset of LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers on Christmas, but there are months left until the playoffs, and the Heat is currently eighth in the Eastern Conference standings.

It’s time to start asking serious questions about this Heat team that has already lost power forward Josh McRoberts for the season and is currently starting career reserve Chris Andersen at the position. First question: Can this team be any good?

“I’m a pretty optimistic guy, so I’m always going to say yeah, but I haven’t seen it yet,” said Heat center Chris Bosh, who had 15 points and played less than 18 minutes. “We can keep talking for the whole time like next week, next month, next season, but it’s going to keep going until we change it.”

The Heat (14-20) plays the Brooklyn Nets at 6p.m. Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena, and the game will be a tough turnaround for a few reasons. For starters, the Heat loses a few hours of rest amid this road-home back-to-back, and the streaking Nets have won six of their last seven games. And then, of course, there is the perception of apathy.

Second question: Does this Heat team even care?

It certainly didn’t seem like it in Houston, unfortunately. It was the Heat’s worst loss since a 39-point defeat to Charlotte on Jan.20, 2010.

“Our guys care,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “If you saw behind the scenes how they approach the work, and I have continually commended our group for that, coming in the next day even with the frustration, the pain and anger guys are feeling. Our guys come in with the right attitude to try to correct it, and it has been elusive for us for whatever reason.”

The Rockets (23-10) scored 61 points in the first half, and then things got ugly. A driving dunk by newcomer Josh Smith gave Houston an 88-60 lead with 1:36 left in the third quarter, and teammate Dwight Howard nearly knocked Smith over in celebration. The Rockets outscored the Heat 33-11 in the third period.

Houston is hoping Smith is the strategic midseason acquisition that propels them through the difficult Western Conference playoffs. Who knows if that happens, but Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons castoff helped against the Heat.

Not that the Rockets really needed him.

Houston outscored Miami 71-33 between the second and third quarters. Howard had 19 points in the second period, and Rockets shooting guard James Harden had 15 points in the third.

In the end, it was the largest victory of the season for the Rockets, which entered the game mired in a post-Christmas funk.

Nothing like playing the Heat to ring in a New Year.

“Right now our mental toughness as a unit is just not there,” said Dwyane Wade, who had 15 points.

The Heat scored four points in the first five minutes of the third quarter, and the game was over. Harden finished with 28 points, Howard had 23 points and 13 rebounds, and four other Rockets scored in double figures, including former Florida Gators star Corey Brewer, who had 11 points off the bench.

The Rockets outrebounded the Heat 47-33, and Houston scored 25 points on 21 turnovers.

Wade emerged from the halftime locker room with 13 points and heating pads on his right knee and left calf. He scored two points the rest of the game and was thoroughly outplayed by Harden, who is putting together a legitimate case for MVP.

Hassan Whiteside had 14 points and five rebounds off the bench, but Howard, the Rockets’ dominant center, mauled the Heat’s youngster in the second quarter. Howard went inside for easy buckets on five consecutive possessions against Whiteside early in the period, and the Heat never recovered.

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