Five takeaways from the Heat’s 103-97 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night at Wells Fargo Center, which dropped Miami into fifth place in the Eastern Conference and only a half game ahead of the Pacers and Bucks in the playoff race:
1. Something needs to change with the Heat’s starting lineup. Miami’s Platinum group (the bench) outscored the starters 57-40 and nearly rallied the Heat all the way back from a 28-point fourth quarter deficit. That was the good news.
The bad news? The starting unit continues to stink. Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson and Josh Richardson combined to shoot 15 of 42 from the field (35.7 percent). Richardson finished minus-13, James Johnson was minus-17, Whiteside was minus-16 and Dragic minus-22. Tyler Johnson only broke even because he was on the floor for the Heat’s fourth quarter rally.
Coming into Friday’s game, the Heat’s starting unit was minus-30 on the floor together in 99 minutes together – the second-worst five-man lineup on the team. That number clearly got worse by the end of the game.
“It was a tough loss,” said Dragic, who scored 10 points on 4 of 12 shooting, but had only one assist in 23 minutes of work which didn’t include any playing time in the fourth quarter. “The starting unit, we need to change something. The last few games we were not good. The bench plays with a lot of energy. They were unbelievable. They almost came back. But you need all 10, 11 players. Sometimes we get affected by if we don’t shoot the ball well. It kind of carries over to defense and it shouldn’t.”
This isn’t the first time Dragic has said the Heat’s offensive struggles have led to mistakes on the other end. He said the same thing after the Heat’s embarrassing loss to Sacramento at home last week.
Now, it’s up to Spoelstra to do something. He said last week he would like to give this lineup time to gel. But will he make a change Saturday in Detroit?
“I don’t know,” Spoelstra answered. “We’ll see. It’s easy to make snap judgements right now, but we’ll see when we get on to Detroit.”
2. Whiteside might be the first guy to get scratched from the starting lineup. The Heat’s $98 million starting center played only 18 minutes and 17 seconds Friday night and left the bench midway through the fourth quarter because he thought he was going to throw up.
Whiteside said he’d been vomiting since the morning and dealing with stomach ailments all afternoon – a story his coach corrobated.
“We’ll find out more when we get to Detroit,” Spoelstra said. “He’s definitely under the weather. Hopefully he can recover on the flight and feel better tomorrow.”
Whiteside finished with four points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots Friday. He picked up his second foul midway through the first quarter and never really got going offensively (he was 1 of 3 at the half) against Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid, who finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks on 7 of 17 shooting.
“Yeah the doctor came back and looked at me and said there’s a virus going around,” Whiteside said after the game. “Or it might have been something I ate.
“They knew it. The team knew. [I left the bench because] I felt like I had to go throw up.”
3. Bam Adebayo continues to impress. With Whiteside sick and not producing much of anything other than bile, the Heat’s first round pick finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds and a season-high tying six assists in 29 minutes off the bench. And there were plenty of sterling moments against Embiid, whom he defended very well.
“You have to do it with incredible effort and great technique and discipline because Embiid is very clever, very skilled, knows how to draw fouls,” Spoelstra said. “Bam, for such a young player, is becoming a technician with his discipline and technique and studying players. He’ll definitely be able to build on that."
Adebayo, who ranks second on the team in defensive field goal differential behind Josh Richardson, finished plus-nine for the game. Kelly Olynyk led the Heat in scoring with 19 points – including 12 in the fourth quarter – and finished plus-11.
4. The Heat had a chance before a late turnover doomed them. Miami turned it over only 12 times in the loss (the Sixers scored 12 points off them), but the last one – an inbounds pass from Justise Winslow to Wayne Ellington – was intercepted by Ben Simmons and it sealed the win for Philly.
After the Heat trimmed the lead down to 101-97 on a Wayne Ellington three-pointer with 24.9 seconds to go, Philly turned it over, opening the door for Miami. But Simmons made a great play on the pass from Winslow towards the basket, a mistake Winslow regretted. It was his only turnover in the game in an otherwise productive night (7 points on 2 of 10 shooting, 12 rebounds) off the bench.
“We figured out after the fact in the locker room now, talking about it how they were going to switch,” Winslow said. “I thought it was going to be open. Unfortunately, Simmons made a great play."
Said Spoelstra: “Justise made a lot of plays down the stretch. There were some other layers we could have gotten to, but there’s no guarantee we would have gotten something on those. He should have no regrets on this game. He laid it out there.”
5. Wayne Ellington ended his shutout streak at one game. After being held scoreless Wednesday for the first time since Nov. 28, the Heat’s leading three point shooter got back to doing his thing as soon as he got in the game Friday night. Ellington buried his first three-point attempt 10 seconds after he got into the game.
He just still didn’t shoot the ball great, finishing 6 of 16 and 4 of 12 from three-point range for 16 points in 30 minutes.