Barry Jackson

Heat at a loss for answers, solutions after a third consecutive home loss

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) reacts after a call against the Heat in the fourth quarter as the Miami Heat host the Indiana Pacers at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Saturday, February 2, 2019
Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) reacts after a call against the Heat in the fourth quarter as the Miami Heat host the Indiana Pacers at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Saturday, February 2, 2019 adiaz@miamiherald.com

Five takeaways from Miami’s 95-88 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday, marking the Heat’s third consecutive home defeat:

This season now appears close to unraveling, with Miami three games below .500 and beginning a stretch of six consecutive road games – all difficult.

With the trade deadline Thursday, the Heat (24-27) clearly needs to shake up a roster that continues to take one step forward and two steps back. But Miami has tried to make a move for seven months, without success, because other teams won’t take the Heat’s bad contracts and Miami has been unwilling to trade assets (such as Josh Richardson) merely for first-round picks.

Those efforts to make changes are likely to continue over the next five days.

In losing home games on consecutive nights for the second time this season, Miami fell three games below .500 for the first time since Dec. 16. And a daunting schedule looms, with road games at Portland, Sacramento, Golden State, Denver and Dallas before the All-Star break and at Philadelphia immediately after.

“I don’t have the exact answer; to lose three in a row at home is tough,” Dwyane Wade said. “It’s a lot of things. You have got to figure it out. I told the guys in the locker room it doesn’t get any easier. This road trip is the toughest stretch of the season. We have to figure out a way to get out of frustration and play free of the mind.”

Erik Spoelstra insisted afterward that “I’m not frustrated. We’re hitting against a wall right now. We need to find maybe a different path. I’m not frustrated. I’m invigorated. Things change quickly. We were six games under and everyone was writing our season off. I try to quiet all that and try to help this team the best I can.

“You are constantly searching and digging and grinding for solutions and that’s where we are right now. I want everybody to get away from this building [Sunday]. There are always ebbs and flows of a season. We have not played well for three games. But we have a great opportunity to get our act together and game together and get comfortable again. There is no better place to do that than the road.”

Ahead 54-53 at the half, the Heat then fall apart, allowing a 10-0 run to start the third quarter and falling behind by 18. A 13-2 run to close the third quarter left Miami down 84-77.

But the Heat mustered just 11 points in the fourth quarter, including four in the first nine minutes, and lost to a team that had been 0-4 since losing star guard Victor Olapido for the season with an injury.

And yet the Heat remains in playoff position, in the No. 8 spot.

Only the ineptitude of the teams chasing Miami is keeping the Heat with a playoff seed.

The No. 9 Pistons lost by 10 at home to the Clippers and remain two behind the Heat. The No. 10 Wizards lost by 16 at home to Milwaukee and remain 2.5 behind the Heat.

The Heat now is 1.5 games behind No. 7 Charlotte, which beat Chicago, and remained 2.5 behind No. 6 Brooklyn, which lost to Orlando.

“We’ve got to stick with it,” Justise Winslow said. “Two years ago, this team went on an unbelievable run. Why not again? Can’t be negative. Don’t let the frustration make you put your head down and feel sorry for yourself.”

Asked what needs to change, Hassan Whiteside said: “I don’t really know.”

Miami doesn’t play again at home until Feb. 23 vs. Detroit. That might not be a bad thing, considering Miami is just 11-16 at home.

The Heat remains one of the league’s least efficient and least potent teams offensively.

Miami tied a season high with 24 turnovers,which led to 31 points, most allowed by Miami all season off turnovers.

“You can’t win ball games when you give away that many extra possessions to the other team,” Wade said. “Last time, coach slowed everything down and we went to quote, unquote old man basketball. We got to figure it out, especially going on this road trip. If we turn the ball over, it’s going to be 30, 40 point blowouts.”

Spoelstra said of the turnovers: “Had almost 50 turnovers in two home games against that team. They force you out of your comfort zone. We had some really tough turnovers in addition to ones they force you into. We had some unforced ones that are pretty costly. There were some unexplainable ones to say the least.”

What’s more, Miami shot just 42 percent and 30 percent on threes (9 for 30).

The Heat had more turnovers in the fourth quarter (five) than made field goals (3 in 15 attempts).

Miami’s 14 first-half turnovers were most by the Heat in any half this season.

Whiteside and Winslow had four turnovers apiece, and Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Josh Richardson and Kelly Olynyk had three apiece.

Miami entered 23rd in the league in turnovers (14.4 per game), 26th in points per game (105.3), 28th in field goal percentage (44.3), and 30th in free throw percentage (68.8).

In an era when scoring is up, Miami is now 2-13 when it fails to score 100 points.

Communication also remains surprisingly uneven for a team that has been together this long.

In one first quarter sequence, a miscommunication between Winslow and Josh Richardson led to a Bojan Bogdanovic layoff, prompting a timeout from a livid Spoelstra, who punched the air multiple times in anger at that defensive breakdown. Winslow apparently thought there would be a switch defensively on that play.

On another play, Winslow took to a knee to the high on a hard but legal screen with Domantas Sabonis. Whiteside needed to warn Winslow about that screen.

Winslow said he has been surprised by the lack of communication in Heat losses – difficult to understand considering many of these players have been together for more than 2 ½ years.

Wade and Kelly Olynyk did good work but both were off with their shot in the fourth after they helped the Heat close to within five.

Wade had 10 points in the third quarter and closed with 21 points, six rebounds and four assists. But he shot 0 for 4 in the fourth.

Olynyk had 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists but also shot 0 for 4 in the fourth.

After briefly falling out of the rotation, Olynyk has come back strong, piecing together four consecutive good games. Saturday’s effort followed games of 11 points and 6 rebounds against the Knicks, 6 and 9 against Chicago and 21 and 7 vs OKC.

Olynyk, who scored 11 in the second quarter on Saturday, has shot 20 for 32 from the field during this four-game stretch and 9 for 17 from three-point range.

He entered Saturday averaging a career-low 19.9 minutes, down from 23.4 last season. His scoring average has dropped from 11.5 to 9.0, his shooting percentage from 49.7 to 45.7 and his three-point shooting from 37.9 to 34.4.

Whiteside does some of his best work against the Pacers.

Whiteside closed with 19 points and 14 rebounds and a block, after putting up 11 and 20 and 12 and 17 in two previous games against the Pacers this season.

He was a menace early on Saturday, collecting 9 points and 7 rebounds in the first quarter and blocking a Thaddeus Young shot.

Late in the second quarter, Whiteside briefly expressed displeasure about being lifted for Bam Adebayo, with only one foul, in the first half, but ended up playing nearly 31 minutes. Spoelstra didn’t take issue with Whiteside saying something about being taken out.

“I liked that substitution pattern and he does too in the moment, which he might not, which I get, is fine,” Spoelstra said. “I was pleased with what competitiveness he brought to this game.”

Said Whiteside: “I try to affect the game the best I can and I have no regrets when I leave the court.”

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