Five takeaways from the Heat’s 89-88 loss to the Sacramento Kings Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena:
1. The Heat has a vice – it has a habit of performing poorly against bad teams. If you are trying to figure out who this team really is you are not alone. For every big win the Heat has pulled off this season – Boston (twice), at Toronto, at Minnesota – it feels like Miami has matched it with an equally ugly loss – Brooklyn (twice), at Chicago and now at home to the Kings.
Sacramento (15-33) came in tied for the worst record in the league and has the worst offensive, defensive and net rating in the league. And yet, it wasn’t until Miami opened the fourth quarter with an 11-0 run that the Heat truly looked like the better team. Then, it all went downhill with six minutes to play as the Kings erased a 12-point deficit and won the game on De’Aaron Fox’s putback dunk with 3.3 seconds to play.
What in the name of Crockett and Tubbs happened?
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“Spo said it right. We were a little bit cocky,” said Goran Dragic, who led the Heat with 23 points, but didn’t get much in the way of help outside of Wayne Ellignton, who added 20 points off the bench. “He said we didn’t battle. We were not ourselves. We didn’t grind the game out.”
Said Ellington: “I felt like we kind of felt like we were better than this team and instead of coming out and showing that we were better we kind of relaxed a little bit and came out flat. They were hungry. They were the more aggressive team tonight, they were more physical than us. It showed.”
Overconfidence clearly doesn’t suit this Heat team well. But it’s something they’ve now been burned by twice in less than a week – up 16 in Brooklyn in the third quarter and now up 12 to the Kings at home with six minutes to play.
2. Is the Heat becoming too reliant on Wayne Ellington for offense? It’s a fair question to ask because it felt like Miami’s offense was turning to Ellington and Dragic a lot to produce on Thursday.
Ellington finished 7 of 16 including six of 13 on three-pointers (he now owns the franchise-record for games with at least six three-pointers made with nine). Dragic was 8 of 14.
“I don't know,” Dragic answered when I posed the question. “Spo called the offensive plays. I feel like Wayne was hot, though. We got him the ball and he made shots. It’s a different look [than what we normally run].
“Either way we cannot shy away from our identity,” Dragic continued. “We have to try to get inside the paint, try to play pick-and-roll, especially the fourth quarter. I don’t know. We didn’t do that enough. Every game is different.”
Miami shot 37.8 percent from the field (tied for its third-worst shooting night of the season) and was outscored in the paint 42-32.
Hassan Whiteside finished 3 of 10 for eight points and 13 rebounds. James Johnson had four points on 2 of 6 shooting and Josh Richardson, who missed the game’s final shot, was a ghastly 2 of 13 for 6 points in 36 minutes.
3. Coach Erik Spoelstra yanked four of his starters out with 8:40 to go in the third quarter and got production from his bench. Derrick Jones Jr., Johnson, Whiteside and Dragic all came out with the Heat down 58-50 and Kelly Olynyk, Ellington, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo teammed up with Richardson to rally the Heat, which took the lead into the fourth quarter and then expanded on it.
The good news is the starters didn’t deflect the blame.
“We didn’t deserve to win this game, especially the first unit,” Dragic said. “We didn’t look right. Our defense was not good and you see Spo take us out early in the third quarter. The second unit came back, took a lead then. We just were not ourselves tonight.”
Said Richardson: “I think we were flat the first half and it starts with myself and the starters. I don’t think we got us off to a good start we should have gotten to. Spo took some people out early in the third because we weren't showing enough energy and I think the bench came in and gave us a good spark.”
Winslow, who came out with 5:40 to play and the Heat leading 84-74 actually finished a team-best plus 19 for the game. He had 11 points, five rebounds, two assists and was 3 of 7 from the field in 28 minutes of work.
Adebayo and Olynyk each finished plus-10 for the game. Olynyk had 10 points, four rebounds, four assists and two blocks in 19-plus minutes and Adebayo had six points, a rebound, two asssits and a block in 21 minutes of work.
“Only time we really looked like us was midway through the third quarter to midway through the fourth quarter really making some great defensive plays,” Spoelstra said. “And offensively it was challenging most of the night, but our energy was great during that stretch and that propelled us to a double digit lead.”
4. Whiteside fouled out with 21.6 seconds to play. But was this loss all his fault? No, this wasn’t the best Whiteside we’ve seen. He didn’t make his first field goal until 9:34 to play. But it’s hard to simply peg this defeat on Whiteside – even if he’s earning the biggest paycheck on the team.
“He started to do some good things defensively certainly in the fourth quarter,” Spoelstra said. “He was much more active at that point and clearly different than how he looked in the first quarter and start of the third. He had some opportunities in the paint that we just weren’t able to follow them up.”
The moving screen that was called on him for his sixth and final foul didn’t appear to be his fault either teammates said. Dragic moved a little early.
“I don’t know what I did,” Whiteside said. “I set a great screen. The coaches reviewed it. They said it was a great screen. That’s how I’m taught to screen. It’s funny, you hit a guy, they fall over. C’mon man, you can’t make that call at the end of the game. It wasn’t an illegal screen.”
Sure, but could Whiteside have brought better energy in the first half and third quarter? There’s little doubting that.
“It’s a long season. It’s a lot of games,” Dragic said of what needs to be done to get Whiteside going. “So sometimes you have one of those nights, and try to encourage him. Tomorrow is a new day. Hopefully he’s going to pick himself up and play well. But it’s not only him. Don’t get me wrong, it was the whole first unit. We were off. We still scored 47 points in the first half, but our defense was way worse.”
5. The Kings are now 4-26 all-time in Miami. When you go back and rank losses at the end of this season – this is the stat that will put this loss No. 1.
Sacramento had not won in Miami since 2001 and did so with arguably its worst team in years.
“It was our fourth win in 30 years here so we feel great,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “We were down 12 with six minutes to go. We got stops in 11-of-the-last 13 possessions.”
And the biggest plays were made by 6-3, 175-pound De’Aaron Fox. Before he had the game-winning putback slam, he picked Dragic’s pocket, dribbled down the court and missed a layup teammate Buddy Hield laid back in without a single Heat defender besides Dragic near him.
“We got a good defensive possession to contest,” Spoelstra said of the Heat’s last play on defense. “That's all you can ask for. A good contest on it. We just didn’t get a block out and we didn’t jump. There was one guy that jumped, one guy that went for it. That probably summed up the evening as much as anything. One guy went for it, the rest of us spectated. That’s not how you win NBA games.”