Barry Jackson

Heat again exposed defensively and Spoelstra “trying to find enough people that are reliable”

Charlotte Hornets’ Willy Hernangomez (41) blocks a shot by Miami Heat’s Rodney McGruder (17) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018.
Charlotte Hornets’ Willy Hernangomez (41) blocks a shot by Miami Heat’s Rodney McGruder (17) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. AP

CHARLOTTE – Five takeaways from the Heat’s 125-113 loss against the Hornets on Tuesday at Spectrum Center:

A night after relinquishing 123 points against Sacramento, the Heat’s defense was dismantled again, and what’s discouraging is that this is happening against teams that aren’t considered in the upper half of the league and it’s happening in several different ways.

In transition. On dribble penetrations. On pinpoint passes. On offensive rebounds.

Asked what specifically irks him about the Heat’s defense, Erik Spoelstra said late Tuesday night:

“The last two games it’s been everything. That’s the problem. You’re trying to plug in a leaking dam and there’s just too much. Trying to find enough people that are reliable to do their job every single time down regardless of what’s going on during the course of the game. We’ll get there. We’ve proven obviously we can do it. We can get it back very quickly but it will take some work.”

The Hornets shot 54.3 percent from the field and 46.4 percent on threes (13 for 28). They scored 21 points on 15 Heat turnovers. They broke down Heat defenders on multiple occasions, particularly Tony Parker, who scored 24 points and looked like the vintage version that tormented teams for much of this century with the San Antonio Spurs.

They scored 48 points in the paint, a night after the Kings scored 68 in the paint on Miami in a 10-point win against the Heat.

“Defensively, they just annihilated us in the paint and broke our defense down with not too much resistance,” Spoelstra said. “It’s been a disappointing two games. We have to get to work. We’ll get back into the lab on Thursday and roll up our sleeves. There is no easy way to get back to our identity. We have to understand how important the little things are, the effort plays, the details.”

The Heat dropped to 11th in the league in points allowed per game, at 110.7, compared with 102.9 last season, which was fourth.

The caveat, of course, is that scoring is up around the league and the Heat is playing at a faster pace. Miami is allowing teams to shoot 45 percent, same as last year.

But keep in mind that Boston has gone from allowing 100.4 points per game last season to 96.3 this season.

So what’s specifically the problem?

“Everything,” Josh Richardson said, citing defensive communication as one issue.

But he said the fact the Heat and others are playing at a faster pace shouldn’t compromise Miami’s defense.

“We should be able to figure that out,” he said. “Teams good at defense,… that should work in our favor once we figure it out.”

Hassan Whiteside - who had 16 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in 29 minutes - cited a “multitude of things” contributing to the defensive problems. “When I go for a block, the next man needs to be there to help,” he said. “Help the helper.”

James Johnson will help when he comes back from May sports hernia surgery, but Spoelstra said there’s still no timetable for his return.

“I wish I had an answer,” Dwyane Wade said of the defensive issues. “We’re trying to find our identity. This league is different right now.”

Just like last year, the Heat remains vulnerable against teams beneath them in the standings or teams not as highly regarded.

Last season, the Heat (now 3-4) lost 12 games to teams that finished at least 10 games below .500 – a surprisingly high number for a team that finished with a winning record.

And this season, the Heat’s first four losses were to teams that finished at least 10 games below .500 last season: Orlando, two to Charlotte and Sacramento. In their defense, the Hornets and Kings appear improved from a year ago.

But there’s no automatic win with this team, as was the case last season.

Erik Spoelstra’s curious non-usage of Wayne Ellington continues.

For the third consecutive game since Ellington was deemed healthy and available after a preseason ankle injury, Spoelstra again opted to use Tyler Johnson instead of Ellington. And unlike the previous two games, Spoelstra went 10-deep in the first half but chose to use Derrick Jones Jr. over Ellington.

Ellington said before the game that he’s a bit surprised he’s not playing and hasn’t discussed the matter with Spoelstra. He said after the game that “it’s tough as a competitor. I want to be out there. Everything will work itself out.”

Johnson, considered the better defender on a team now looking to prioritize defense even more after the past two nights, finished with 12 points (5 for 7 shooting), three assists, two turnovers and a minus-8 plus/minus in 26 minutes after a scoreless first half.

Wade’s three-point evolution continues. Wade, in seven games, already has surpassed his three-point total in his final season with the Heat before going to Chicago – 2015-16, when he shot 7 for 44.

Wade hit 4 of 6 three-pointers on Tuesday, making him 13 for 29 for the season (44.8 percent). He shot 9 for 41 on threes in 21 regular-season games for Miami last season.

“Coaches asked me to shoot it,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s the shots we’re getting. Coach asked me to shoot not as many midrange jumpers. Back up a bit.”

Wade, at 36, appeared spry on the second night of a back-to-back set. He had 19 points and four assists in 24 minutes.

Wade indicated before the game that he likely would miss the second half of some back-to-back sets but has not determined when that’s mostly likely to happen.

“I kind of watched Kobe [Bryant] go through it and played the nights he could,” Wade said Tuesday. “The nights he couldn’t, he didn’t play. He didn’t play in Miami the last time. It’s still early. You would love to play in a lot of them but I probably won’t. I haven’t needed to sit out back to backs in a long time, so it’s not been a conversation.

“In Cleveland, Ty Lue wanted to sit me out some because he wanted to play other guys so I did when he needed me to. In Chicago, I didn’t sit out. My last year in Miami, I didn’t sit out. It just depends on how your body feels and how you’re going.”

Last season, Wade played on the second half of back-to-back sets nine times and averaged 10.1 points and shot 39.2 percent in those nine games, compared with 11.4 and 43.8 overall for the season (with both Cleveland and Miami).

Even with its defensive issues, the Heat isn’t going to win many games when its three starting wing players struggle from the field.

Goran Dragic shot 3 for 11, Josh Richardson and Rodney McGruder 5 for 13 apiece. That’s 13 for 37.

Dragic scored nine, well below his 19.2 average entering the game. Richardson, who entered averaging 19.8, closed with 15. McGruder scored 13.

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