Miami Heat

Heat loses ground in playoff race with home loss to Hornets

Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat drives to the basket while defended by Al Jefferson (25) and Courtney Lee (1) of the Charlotte Hornets in the first quarter at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Thursday, March 17, 2016.
Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat drives to the basket while defended by Al Jefferson (25) and Courtney Lee (1) of the Charlotte Hornets in the first quarter at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Thursday, March 17, 2016. pportal@elnuevoherald.com

Dwyane Wade has never been a three-pointer shooter, but he has been the Miami Heat’s go-to-man in the fourth quarter for years.

Thursday night, the struggling 12-time All-Star had to try and become one on Miami’s final possession and it failed.

His first and only three-point shot of the night clanked off the side of the rim with 2.2 seconds to play, sealing Charlotte’s 109-106 win at AmericanAirlines Arena and costing the Heat third place in a tightening Eastern Conference playoff race.

So why was Wade – 7-for-37 from three-point range this season and a career 28.6 three-point shooter – even on the court when Miami clearly needed a three and was coming out of a timeout with 3.8 seconds remaining? And why was rookie Josh Richardson, the league’s leading three-point shooter (64.1 percent) since the All-Star break, on the bench?

Dwyane Wade missed the Miami Heat's final shot and finished 3-of-13 from the field in the team's 109-106 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on March 17, 2016.

“You can always go a few different ways, but I just wanted one really big screen,” Spoelstra said of why he subbed Richardson out for center Hassan Whiteside. “There’s three looks to that. That was the first look. In those situations all you’re looking for is a wide open shot. You’re not necessarily going to go to that option. When you have less than three seconds, I’m fine with a wide open look from anybody on the floor.

“He’s proven himself enough that it doesn’t matter what kind of shot [it is]. If the clock’s ticking down, yeah, I’ll take my chance with that.”

Wade, who finished 3-of-13 from the field and had only 11 points, said normally the first option is never open on the play the Heat ran at the end of the game. But this time he was and it was just short when he let it go.

“I’m just off right now,” said Wade, who since the break is shooting 39.4 percent. “I’m struggling a little bit, trying to get my rhythm. I’ve got to find a way to get a couple easy baskets. Most of the shots I’m taking are highly contested. I’m just not in a rhythm right now. I’ve just got to find a way to find some easy ones, kind of open the basket a little bit more. But, I’ve been here multiple times in my career where sometimes they’ve got a lid on the basket. At some point I’ve got to open it up and it will.”

Richardson, who had helped Miami rally in the fourth quarter with 11 points including three three-pointers, said he had no problem with Spoelstra’s call of having him on the bench.

“I’m not in a position to say anything about that,” Richardson said. “It was a good play call. We just missed the shot.”

Hassan Whiteside had 17 points, seven rebounds and a block in the Miami Heat's 109-106 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on March 17, 2016.

With the loss, the Heat now finds itself tied at 39-29 with the Hornets and Celtics and behind Atlanta (40-29) for third place in the East. Miami, which had won 12 in a row at home over Charlotte before Thursday’s loss, splits the season series with Charlotte 2-2. But by virtue of the Heat’s better division record (8-5 compared to Charlotte’s 7-7 record) Miami is currently fifth in the East.

Miami has one game left with the Celtics in Boston on April 13 (the last regular season game) but has already lost the season series to Boston.

It’s no secret – the Heat badly wants to finish third in the Eastern Conference.

It not only gives them home court in the first round, it essentially puts them out of the path of the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James in the second round. A win Thursday wouldn’t have cemented that possibility by any stretch. But the loss does show it’s going to be a battle down the stretch.

“The worst part about this time of year is you’re hoping to get help from other people,” Wade said. “It’s a tough race in the Eastern Conference and it’s going to go down to the end. So, as a competitors, as a team that didn’t play in the playoffs last year we have something to play for. So, it’s not a bad thing at all.”

The Heat, which led by as many as 15 points midway through the second quarter, went into the fourth quarter Thursday trailing 82-73, but rallied behind Goran Dragic, Luol Deng and it’s bench mob of Hassan Whiteside, Richardson and rookie Justise Winslow. Richardson then picked up his fifth foul with 3:24 to play and it slowed the momentum a little. He also missed three free throws.

The Hornets finished 13-of-26 from three-point range and got a number of big shots from Kemba Walker (21 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) and Nicolas Batum (19 points, five rebounds seven assists) throughout. Al Jefferson finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.

“You see why this team is winning the way they have,” Wade said. “The shots they were hitting were Golden State-like.”

The Hornets also got some help from the officials. Whiteside was called for goaltending near the end of the third quarter on a shot by Frank Kominsky.

“I felt it was cleaner than my grandma’s floors,” Whiteside said of his block. “It was unbelievable. That’s two points they shouldn’t have had. You look back it and say that really hurt us. Unbelievable. That’s all I can say.”

Deng, who banged his knee, tweaked his shoulder and then took a shot in the mouth late in the fourth, led the Heat with 22 points and nine rebounds. Richardson had 18 points off the bench. Whiteside had 17 points, seven rebounds and a block. His streak of 13 consecutive double-digit rebounds off the bench, which tied Paul Silas for the NBA record, came to an end.

“They weren’t missing,” Whiteside said. “You can’t rebound a make.”

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