Heat Check

Five takeaways from Heat-Wizards: Miami still can’t figure out how to beat good teams

Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson goes to the basket against Washington Wizards center Ian Mahinmi and guard Tim Frazier during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, November 15, 2017.
Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson goes to the basket against Washington Wizards center Ian Mahinmi and guard Tim Frazier during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, November 15, 2017. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Five takeaways from the Heat’s 102-93 loss to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena:

1. The only thing the Heat has proven thus far is it can’t beat good teams or play consistently enough to beat good teams. Miami fell to 6-8 with the loss to the Wizards and it’s no coincedence all six wins (Pacers, Hawks, Bulls, Clippers Suns and Jazz) have come against teams with losing records entering Wednesday’s action and all eight losses have come to teams with winning records (Magic, Spurs, Celtics, T’Wolves, Nuggets, Warriors, Pistons and Wizards).

It’s fair to start wondering if what this team really was last year was what it’s final record showed – an even 41-41 mark – and not the 30-11 finish which got everyone excited.

“It’s like we’ve been saying for a while, that word – to be able to sustain,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We have some of the best basketball that we can play and some of the worst basketball, and then we go back and forth countless times during the course of a game. So it’s there. It’s neck up for us to be able to build this mental resiliency and be able to put our best game out there and sustain it for 48 minutes. That doesn’t necesarilly guarantee you anything either. But we have these pockets during the course of games where we’re just simply inconsistent during those stretches.”

2. Turnovers, Miami’s Achilles heel, doomed the Heat again. Miami coughed it up 17 times, which led directly to 26 Wizards points. Eight of those turnovers came in the fourth quarter, which led directly to 19 points and thus led to Washington rallying from a 74-71 deficit entering the fourth.

“It’s not like it's an intentional thing,” said Tyler Johnson, who didn’t have any turnovers on Wednesday. “It’s not like guys want to turn the ball over. It’s just a matter of when we get into the fourth quarter we still have to look for opportunities to be aggressive. Every NBA team when you get into the fourth quarter their halfcourt defense goes up. Everybody is locked in and knows tendencies and their coaches are calling out plays and all that. We’ve just got to find some early relief buckets and not put so much pressure on ourselves.”

Still, the turnovers completely overshadowed all the good the Heat did on defense in the third quarter when Miami held Washington to 4 of 19 shooting and only 10 points in the third quarter, erasing a 12-point halftime deficit. It was deflating.

“It is frustrating,” said Hassan Whiteside, who had 14 points, 21 rebounds and a block in 34 minutes. “It’s always frustrating when you put in all this hard work and give it your all and come out with a loss.

3. Where has the James Johnson we know gone? It’s hard to tell what exactly has been affecting him, but this isn’t the guy the Heat signed to a four-year, $60 million deal to this summer. After scoring just two points and grabbing three rebounds in 23 minutes last Friday in a win at Utah (he scored 10 in Sunday’s loss to the Pistons, but had just three rebounds and two assists in 26 minutes), Johnson finished with five points (1-for-5 shooting), two rebounds and two assists in 28 minutes Wednesday night.

Those are two games in the last three now where he’s been virtually invisible.

Is his right knee, which kept him out of the Bulls game Nov. 1 because of tendonitis, bothering him and limiting him at all?

“I don't think so – not that I know of,” teammate Tyler Johnson said. “I just think it’s a matter of we’re in different roles that we were [last season] and trying to figure out when to be aggressive and when to be involved. If I have faith in anybody to figure it out it’s going to be him.”

Does it surprise Johnson that JJ hasn’t had his fingerprints felt very much at all in two of Miami’s last three games?

“It does,” Tyler Johnson said. “But at the same time he gives so much to the team that we have to figure out a way to give back to him."

In Tuesday’s ESPN Real Plus/Minus standings, Johnson ranked 14th in the league, one spot ahead of four-time MVP LeBron James. Even he was a bit baffled by it.

“[I’ve had] ups and downs,” Johnson said Tuesday after practice. “I don’t really care about the plus and minuses in the league. I know I’m probably one of the last guys on our team in plus/minus, like what we calculate and what we count. I’ve got a lot of learning to do. Just starts with pre-practice, with my preparation. It was an up-and-down [six-game] roadtrip for me. But I didn’t take away from the team as much as I thought I did.”

4. Good starts have usually been the Heat’s thing – but it wasn’t Wednesday night. Through Miami’s first 13 games, the Heat found itself down after the first quarter just three times: in the home opener against the Pacers, at Golden State on Nov. 6 and at Detroit on Sunday.

The Wizards blitzed the Heat from the get-go Wednesday with Markeiff Morris taking advantage of mismatches in the paint and scoring 10 points in the opening quarter, staking Washington a 30-19 advantage. Goran Dragic, normally hot early in games, went scoreless in 11 minutes, seven seconds worth of work in the opening quarter, missing all four shots. The Heat shot just 35 percent in the quarter.

“We dug ourselves a hole,” said Josh Richardson, who had four points, three rebounds, two assists, a steal and was a team-worst minus 16 in 32 minutes. “In this league you can’t do that every night. You got to start the game out with intensity. I think we came out a bit flat.”

5. The good Tyler Johnson showed up for a half and it helped. Then he disappeared again. It’s been an up-and-down season for the Heat’s leading scorer off the bench last season, but he paced the Heat and kept them in the game in the first half Wednesday with 13 points on 4 of 6 shooting including three three-pointers.

Johnson, 25, has had too many games this season where he didn’t contribute much at all. He went 1 of 8 in the losses at Golden State and Denver and 2 of 7 in Sunday’s loss to Pistons.

The second half of course was a different story. He airballed a three-pointer midway through the fourth quarter – one of five missed shots – and his only points over the final two quarters came on a pair of technical free throws. He finished with 15 points on 4 of 11 shooting.

Still, Johnson hopes to build off this performance.

“It’s good obviously to see the ball go in the hole,” Johnson said. “I think that I was a little bit more aggressive as far as not just settling to shoot. I think in the second half I think I went back to where I was at as far settling around the perimeter and not being aggressive, the way I know how to be. But at the same time other guys get it rolling and I’m there to support them. I’ll continue to build.”