Five takeaways from the Heat’s 115-99 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night:
1. Miami lost for the eight time in a row on the road.
The hottest team in the NBA – winners of 19 consecutive games – built a 19-point lead early in the fourth quarter on the shorthanded Heat and then held on behind Damian Lillard and center Jusuf Nurkic after Miami cut that lead to 93-90 with 6:38 remaining.
Yes, Lillard, an All-Star and the Western Conference’s Player of the Week last week, finished with a team-high 32 points and 10 assists. But it was Nurkic who terrorized the Heat early on. The 7-foot, 280-pound Bosnian finished with 27 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks in 30 brilliant minutes.
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The Heat, which scored a season-high 79 points in the paint in Saturday’s win over Washington, finished with 46 points in the paint (on 23 of 48 shooting) against the Blazers. Portland, which came in with the second-best defensive rating in the league during its nine-game winning streak, held the Heat to 42.9 percent shooting for the game and 10 of 31 shooting from three-point range.
“We needed a much more compete effort on the road against a team that’s playing as well as anybody in this league right now,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We played about a 10-, 12-minute stretch in the second half where it was very competitive basketball, winning a lot of the skirmishes and using that force to generate some offense on the other end. It would have taken literally 48 minutes of that, throughout the course of your rotation. You don’t have to play perfect basket, but you have to play with that competitive edge to give yourself a legitimate chance to win on the road, and we're capable of that, we’re expecting that kind of effort and we just didn’t do it consistently enough.
“That fourth quarter is much more indicative of the habits we've been playing with in recent weeks. But you do have to credit them. They are playing at an extremely high level. They even seemed much different than the last time we played them in December. You do have to credit them for that.”
2. Outside of a career-high 13 rebounds and some gritty work overall from Justise Winslow to rally the Heat from 19 points down in the second half, it wasn’t a good game for the Heat’s young players in general.
Third-year forward Josh Richardson drew two quick fouls in the opening quarter and was plagued by fouls all night. Richardson played only 16 minutes and had four points (on 2 of 6 shooting), two rebounds and an assist.
Tyler Johnson, meanwhile, missed 9 of his 15 shots and finished with 17 points in 34 minutes, but was a team-worst minus-21 for the game.
Rookie Bam Adebayo, meanwhile, making his second consecutive start in place of the injured Hassan Whiteside, missed nine of his 10 shots and was clearly outplayed by Nurkic, who immediately went after the rookie and scored Portland’s first six points to start the game. Adebayo, who didn’t play in the fourth quarter, finished with four points, nine rebounds and one block in 24 minutes.
“He had a rough start at the beginning, gave up a quick foul on a bucket, missed a chippy, and then he missed a chippy and then he missed probably three or four in the pain that he normally makes,” Spoelstra said. “Well, who cares? Get on to the next play. And things happen and you have to be able to move on. And there's a lot of moving parts pretty quickly in this game, in our pick-and-roll coverage and then going back to a very capable big who can score. Yeah, I’m not concerned about Bam. He'll process all of this and be better the next time.”
3. Winslow and Goran Dragic were bright spots. Dragic did his best to try and carry the load offensively for the Heat while his teammates sputtered early one.
The Heat’s All-Star point guard scored 10 first quarter points and had 23 points on 10 of 16 shooting by the time he left midway through the third quarter. By the time he came back in with 3:15 to play the Heat was down 104-95. Dragic took one shot and missed and the Heat was never in it the rest of the way.
“They’re a good defensive team,” Spoelstra said. “They force you to have to execute. We didn’t really execute with force or purpose until really end of the third quarter, fourth quarter. A lot of one-pass shots without a lot of purpose to them in the first half. Goran was able to shake free. But we weren’t able to sustain it for a long period of time, which would have been needed against a team that’s defending like that.”
Winslow, meanwhile, led a 18-2 Heat run in the fourth quarter which trimmed Portland’s lead to 93-90 and got Miami back into the game. He finished with 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting in 30 minutes off the bench in yet another encouraging performance.
“He was facilitating, getting us organized into offense and then when it was time to be aggressive, he dropped his shoulder and got to the rim a few times,” Spoelstra said. “He probably could have drawn a couple of fouls – a lot of contact on those drives. But he’s been doing that, he’s been trending that way recently. The 13 rebounds were notable and defensively he was in the right spots in the second half, but then you also noticed him when he had to take on the challenge with their two main guys.”
4. It didn’t help the Heat that in addition to playing without Dwyane Wade (mild left hamstring strain) for the first time since he was acquired at the trade deadline, Whiteside missed his second consecutive game with a strained left hip flexor for Miami.
Whiteside, who has missed 21 games this season including 18 for a bruised left knee, lifted upper body weights and rode a stationary bicycle before Monday’s game. Whiteside said he felt better, but was unsure if he would be available to play Wednesday at the Kings.
“With a strain you want to make sure it’s all the way healed,” Whiteside said.
The Heat is 10-11 without Whiteside this season.
5. The Heat, now seeded eighth in the Eastern Conference and a half game back of Milwaukee, continues its three-game West Coast trip Wednesday night in Sacramento. The Kings, who lost in Oklahoma City 106-101 on Monday to fall to 21-47, beat the Heat 89-88 in Miami on Jan. 23.
Miami, which leads Detroit by five games for the final playoff spot in the East, plays only six of its final 14 games against playoff contenders: vs. Nuggets (March 19), at Thunder (March 23), at Pacers (March 25), vs. Cavs (March 27), vs. Thunder (April 9), vs. Raptors (April 11). The Heat’s only remaining back-to-back set is versus the Hawks (April 3-4).
“It’s going to be important [to win Wednesday] because we didn’t start the road trip well, but this [next] game we must have,” Dragic said. “You know, [the Kings] are going to play with basically nothing to lose. They’re already out. We need to take care of business and try to approach this game like its a playoff game, make sure everybody is on the same page and win. That's the only thing that counts for us right now.”