For a franchise built on defensive principles, there is nothing more appalling to the Heat than when the defense is deficient.
So after allowing 117 and 116 points in consecutive losses to well-below-.500 Philadelphia and Orlando, the Heat went back to work Tuesday, hoping to fix a defense that still ranks sixth in the league in points allowed per game (102.4) and 10th best in field goal percentage against (45 percent).
The recent defensive downturn was surprising considering the Heat permitted 98.8 points per game during the 13-game winning streak.
Because of the culture here, Rodney McGruder and Goran Dragic say Heat players take it more personally when the defense isn’t up to the franchise’s standards.
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“We do for sure,” McGruder said. “We allow 115 plus last two games, that's not Miami Heat culture basketball. I didn't do a great job last night. I was a little soft.”
Dion Waiters seemed particularly annoyed after Monday’s loss to Orlando, criticizing the lack of help defense.
“Five people have got to help everyone out there,” he said. “Simple as that. It’s not about stopping guys individually. You need everybody on a string.”
Spoelstra, asked Tuesday about those comments, said: “We worked on our defense today not based on anybody's quote from last night. We had been defending really well. But just because you had some success with that doesn't guarantee it's going to continue. You have to constantly commit to it, work on it, hold each other accountable to it. That's what today was about.”
Dragic said: “I need to get better on defense. We need to get back to our old habits, especially start the games better defensively.”
To that end, the Heat allowed 36 points in the first quarter against Orlando and is relinquishing 26.9 points per game in the first, which ranks 21st in the league. Conversely, Miami permits 23.9 points in the fourth, which is best in the league.
“Our first quarter defense hasn't been great,” Udonis Haslem said. “We can't wait until we get in a hole.”
Waiters’ comments weren’t the only passionate ones after Monday’s game.
Hassan Whiteside — who had 12 points, 19 rebounds and two blocks — was lifted 2:45 into the game with the Heat down 10-2. He returned with 2:58 left in the quarter.
Whiteside said Spoelstra “took me out because the guy got a rebound that went over my head. That happens, man. I lead the league in rebounds last time I checked. We talked about it and I came back in.”
Whiteside also noted that he led both teams in rebounds and held Orlando center Nikola Vucevic to 4 for 14 shooting. “I call that good defense,” Whiteside said.
But Whiteside said Tuesday that the brief benching “didn’t really bother me. Spo will make his decisions. I just listen to him.”
Spoelstra wasn’t asked about the Waiters or Whiteside comments specifically but was asked if he addressed any of the “he-said, he-said” comments from Monday night.
“We did,” Spoelstra said. “It's all part of being in a competitive business. That’s why I told the guys, I reminded them during the course of this year, because it is a young team, there's going to be a lot of emotion. I find it best usually to get out of the arena, have a nice dinner, express your frustration at home, let it get out of your system and come in the next day with a clear mind to try to find solutions. I really commend this group for that. If they weren't getting frustrated, then you have a problem. You have a lifeless group.” (Spoelstra said his team certainly isn’t that and that the players genuinely care.)
RICHARDSON BACK SOON
Guard Josh Richardson, out since Jan. 8 with a sprained foot, should be ready to play when the Heat plays at Atlanta on Feb. 24, Miami’s first game after the All-Star break. On Tuesday, Richardson participated in his first five-on-five, full contact practice.
Miami closes its pre-All Star break schedule on Wednesday in Houston, and Richardson isn’t eligible to play because the team received an injured player’s exemption to sign guard Marcus Georges-Hunt to a 10-day contract that will expire during the break.
• With news that Cleveland’s Kevin Love will miss the All-Star game because of injury, TNT’s Reggie Miller said Whiteside “is a very worthy… replacement, especially the way the Heat have played of late.”
Said Whiteside: “It would be awesome to go to All-Star game. If I don't go to All-Star, I will go on vacation and rest my body. Either way, I'm blessed beyond belief…. To say I have a choice of being an All-Star or going on a resort vacation is unreal to me.”
He said he can cancel the trip because “I got trip insurance.”
• Heat president Pat Riley, in a recent speech to season-ticket holders (courtesy Fox Sports Sun): “We have a pick in the draft this year. About 12 games ago, it looked like it might be the No. 1 pick in the draft. But you don’t ever mess with the karma of winning. Never. You let the game of basketball take it where it will take you, OK. And I think this might take us somewhere. So, I will defer the pick for the winning. Because that’s what we’re about here.”
Dwyane Wade this week offered a new reason for why he really left the Heat. Here’s that.