Ethan J. Skolnick

Ethan J. Skolnick: Uneven Miami Heat loses to Grizzlies, eager to put 2015 in past

Memphis Grizzlies' Zach Randolph (50) defends Miami Heat's Goran Dragic (7) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Memphis, Tenn.
Memphis Grizzlies' Zach Randolph (50) defends Miami Heat's Goran Dragic (7) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Memphis, Tenn. AP

It wouldn’t seem that this would be a calendar year the Heat would wish to extend, not in light of all its turbulence, from life-altering health issues to rotation-altering additions. And yet there Miami was on Tuesday, taking it to overtime. There it was, on a fourth game in five nights, rallying back from nine down in the fourth quarter, against an experienced Memphis squad that will likely land in the West playoffs.

But although this final showing of 2015 reflected some spirit, it also, in the end, represented the reality of the Heat yet again — that it remains just, as Udonis Haslem eloquently put it, one of the crabs in the crowded Eastern Conference bucket, still struggling to crawl up and away.

Tuesday’s 99-90 loss wasn’t as discouraging as some of the others, certainly not when compared with Monday’s meltdown against the Nets. You could argue that the Heat just ran out of steam. Certainly, that might have been the case. Chris Bosh missed his last 11 shots, including one at the regulation buzzer and both in overtime, after making nine of his first 10, a scorching start that had come after he made 7 of 8 against Brooklyn.

And in the locker room, most took a positive tone. Dwyane Wade, who, with a sore hip, spent most of the night trying to free himself from Tony Allen’s claws, said he “liked the resilience of our team to fight for this one.” Bosh spoke of “staying with it.” And both he and Goran Dragic were more dismayed that they had let Monday’s game slip away.

“That’s what made this one hurt,” Bosh said.

This one was the 39th loss of the Heat’s 2015, compared with 41 wins, and although that includes an 18-13 record this season, it’s not as if Miami looks ready to roar into the New Year. Remember, this was just the Heat’s fourth of 17 back-to-back sets for this particular season. And remember, 12 of January’s 17 games will come on the road.

Wade spoke late Monday about how Miami, 30 games into the season, was still figuring itself out. But that’s not just game to game. That’s within a game. That’s within a quarter. That’s within a possession. That was the case again Tuesday.

At times, and this was true early against Memphis, Miami can look lethal, flowing freely on offense and clamping down on the other end. And then, like that, the same team can endure an elongated scoring drought while succumbing to repeated defensive lapses. This time, there were other issues, such as shoddy rebounding early, poor free-throw shooting throughout, and the continued erratic play of Gerald Green, who is proving too unreliable to serve as Miami’s primary perimeter bench weapon.

Even amid all this, the score was tied at halftime. Then, late in the third quarter, Memphis surged, starting a 11-0 run that became 13-0, and a nine-point lead, early in the fourth. Miami did respond, with Amar’e Stoudemire, playing both ends of a back-to-back, reaching back into the archive for a solid sequence — a putback, another rebound, and a slick pass to Green for Green’s only three-pointer. And then, after Memphis pushed its lead from one back to nine, the Heat’s starters battled back, eventually tying the score at 83 when Hassan Whiteside made a hook shot.

But that was the last of the Miami highlights. Wade missed a 17-footer after a miscommunication with Bosh. Bosh missed short from the left wing. And after Memphis point guard Mike Conley was also short on a stepback and Miami called timeout, Bosh missed again on a jumpshot while drifting left.

The ball clanked out.

In the center of the Grindhouse, Bosh gritted his teeth, then stuck out his tongue.

“It was just one of those shots where you only have one try,” Bosh said. “It’s a different speed, and we got a shot at the basket. I just wanted to make sure I got the ball when it switched on me, and I wanted to go as high as I could so we didn’t get a five-second call or anything.”

Instead, there would be five more minutes.

During those, not much went Miami’s way.

Weary after a difficult stretch? Sure. But also, some of the struggle is worrisome. Dragic, for instance, had 12 of his 16 points in the first half, then was forgotten. Afterward, the point guard spoke of how he’s still working with the coaches to get teammates to set different screens, more directly between him and the basket.

“When everybody is getting their shots, then we’re dangerous,” Dragic said. “Then I feel sometimes in the fourth quarter, it’s like 1 on 5, 2 on 5, just pick-and-roll in the middle and that’s it. It’s kind of hard. But when everybody gets their rhythm, when everybody is dangerous for a basket, defenses cannot be relaxed. Everybody needs to be engaged.”

Still, he said, as others have, that it’s still early.

Early in the 2015-16 season.

But late in the calendar year 2015.

Bosh, who dealt with health issues and has returned strong, though he didn’t finish strong enough Tuesday, said, “2015, just half of it sucked. I’m a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, so it was a good year.”

But 2016, for all of them, had better be better.

Ethan J. Skolnick: 305-376-3483, @ethanjskolnick

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