Barry Jackson

Heat, granted new money by the NBA, must improve offensively, as loss to Cavs shows

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7), drives past Cleveland Cavaliers guard Isaiah Thomas (3) in Wednesday’s win. Dragic outplayed Thomas in the point guard matchup. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7), drives past Cleveland Cavaliers guard Isaiah Thomas (3) in Wednesday’s win. Dragic outplayed Thomas in the point guard matchup. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak) AP

CLEVELAND - Five takeaways from the Heat’s 91-89 loss in Cleveland that prevented Miami from moving past Cleveland for third in the Eastern Conference:

• The Heat’s defense is in playoff form. The offense? Not so much.

"We did not play well, at all, offensively," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "It was probably one of our poorer games on that side of the floor in a while, in weeks maybe. We missed some open ones, but also missed free throws, 20 turnovers. Just very inefficient.”

Miami was dreadful in three areas: three-pointers (3 for 28), free throws (14 for 25) and turnovers (20).

On the three-point front, Kelly Olynyk was 0 for 6, Wayne Ellington 0 for 3, Tyler Johnson 1 for 7, Goran Dragic 1 for 5 and Josh Richardson 1 for 4.

"We got a lot of good shots," Ellington said. "Some open ones for my teammates. They did a really good job making sure I didn’t get any open ones tonight. I give the defense credit when they do a good job. And they did well on me tonight. But we still got some open looks, though. We’re a better shooting team than that. Next game we’ll make those. We’re not concerned about that."

On the free throw front, Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson each missed three.

And on the turnover front, Whiteside committed four, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo three apiece.

"This would have been such a great game to win when you play horribly offensively," Spoelstra said. "Whatever it was, 3 for 28, that's not going to happen every night. But then you still have a chance to win.

"Again, we're starting to build some competitive character, to be there at the end, shooting what we did from the 3-point line, the free-throw line and then the turnovers on top of that. These are those really gratifying wins if you can find a way. But we didn't.

"You're not going to make all your threes every single night. Some of Wayne's they chased him off the three. I think K.O.'s were great looks. I think Tyler's were very good looks, time to kind of set, check, let 'em go. We want those guys to continue to shoot those."

Certainly, there are going to be off nights offensively for any team.

"Sometimes, the ball is not going to go in," Dragic said.

But more was expected against a Cleveland team that entered 26th in scoring defense (109.8 per game) and having relinquished 114.3 points per game, on average, over the last 16.

Hassan Whiteside had 22 points and 13 rebounds but the Heat lost to the Brooklyn Nets for the second time in less than a month on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018.

Miami entered 28th in scoring at 100.4 points per game, ahead of only Memphis and Sacramento. Part of that is a byproduct of the Heat’s pace, and lower-scoring results often coming into play because of the Heat’s grind-it-out, defense-first approach.

But Miami is also a below average team in field goal percentage, entering 18th at 45.5.

More is needed, and that’s why it’s essential the Heat generates more offense from its power rotation than the combined 17 points Wednesday from Hassan Whiteside (nine) and James Johnson (eight).

• It’s frustrating enough to lose on a last possession. It’s downright exasperating to not even get off a shot with a chance to tie the game.

With the seconds ticking down off a Kyle Korver missed three throw with seven seconds left, James Johnson got close to the basket but initially looked to pass before changing his mind.

Johnson, well defended by LeBron James on the play, couldn’t even get off a shot before the buzzer.

Asked what he saw on the last play, Johnson said: "I saw Tyler sprinting ahead, it was going to be a tough pass for me to make and J-Rich sprinting ahead. And he was backing up. I was going downhill against him. I liked what I was doing. The only thing is he’s LeBron and he made a great read, and he’s defense prevailed that time. You got to take it for what it is. Tomorrow I’ll probably be doing 100 transition drills."

James’ view of that final play: "I knew they had no more timeouts and so they were going no matter what. I definitely wasn’t expecting Kyle Korver to miss the free throw, but once he did, James Johnson with a full head of steam is very difficult [to stop]. So I tried to keep my body between him and the basket and if he was going to take a shot, whatever it was, if it was a layup or floater or whatever, I just wanted to try to give a contest. I was able to get him down to the baseline.

"I definitely didn’t want him to do an up-and-under. They had done that the last couple of plays with Kelly Olynyk and I think it was [Josh] Richardson who got us on the up-and-under, too. So I just tried to stay between him and the basket, and was able to just not allow him to even get it off before the expiration."

Spoelstra’s take on that last play: "J.J. went 94 feet. Possibly, I got to see on the film if Tyler was open for a count. But we like J.J. as a locomotive. I don't know if there's anybody else back there that would have stopped J.J. from getting to the rim. But we've seen it before, when he gets a head of steam he reminds me of the guy that was  back there. And LeBron met and was able to stop him, basically, in the paint. And I don't think there's anybody else in the league that can do that."

• The Heat is playing really, really well defensively.

Miami entered allowing 101.1 points per game, third behind San Antonio and Boston, and relinquishing 45 percent shooting, which ranks 8th best from a defensive perspective.

Cleveland shot just 35 percent (28 for 80) and managed 91 points.

"Our defense is trending in the right way," Dragic said. "This is 12 times we hold opponents under 40 percent from the field. We want to play like that. This is in our wheelhouse. We want to grind those games. If we made more threes, we would probably be up by 10 points."

Miami’s defense explained why Spoelstra was encouraged afterward.

"I mean there are a lot of things that I really liked about our team tonight," he said. "Our defense really stepped up. And that's what we've been talking about. So we're going to stay with that road map right now, because we're putting together an identity that our guys really are starting to find some purpose with. And it gives you a chance to win games at the end."

• Whiteside didn’t play in the fourth quarter, but this time, he apparently endorsed the move.

Whiteside entered for Bam Adebayo and James Johnson entered for Olynyk with 5:49 left, and the Heat down four, but before play resumed, Whiteside was immediately replaced by Olynyk.

"I was putting H back in the game and K.O. actually did a couple of really good things," Spoelstra said. "So we rolled with that. I looked at [Whiteside], he was at the scorers' table. He said, 'Hey, let him roll, so we just went a little bit longer with K.O.' "

Whiteside had nine points, eight rebounds, a blocked shot and four turnovers in just under 24 minutes.

• As expected, the Heat was granted a $5.5 million disabled player’s exception, as Yahoo reported.

The money can be used to acquire a player with an expiring contract or on a player who’s bought out. Players who have been in the NBA this season must be bought out by March 1 to be playoff eligible elsewhere.

But the money cannot be combined with another Heat player’s salary for trade purposes. In other words, the acquired player must be earning no more than $5.5 million.

And the Heat must open a roster spot if it chooses to add a player with that disabled player exception.

The Heat was granted the exception because of a medical ruling that Dion Waiters would be out until at least June 15 after ankle surgery.

The Heat could benefit from a roster addition.

After a stretch in which Miami played 11 of 17 against teams out of playoff position, the Heat on Wednesday began a stretch in which it plays seven of nine against teams in playoff position.

The Heat is 8-15 against teams currently holding playoff seeds.

Wednesday’s loss was hurtful not only because the Heat fell 1.5 games behind No. 3 Cleveland, but also because the Cavaliers clinched the season series, having won the first two. Miami and Cleveland meet only once more, March 27 in Miami.

The Heat (29-22) is one half game ahead of No. 5 Washington and No. 6 Indiana.

Please click here for the interesting results of a Miami Herald analysis which answers these questions the Heat could be facing unless Goran Dragic is named as an injury replacement in the All-Star Game: How unusual is it for a team without any All-Stars to win a playoff series that season? And how unusual is it for a team without any player who has ever been in an All-Star Game to win a playoff series? Click here for details.

Here’s what Dwyane Wade said before the game when I asked him if he wants to finish his career in a Heat uniform.

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