Heat Check

Heat suffers another deflating loss to a lottery-bound team. So what else is new?

The Sacramento Kings' Frank Mason III (10) drives to the basket against the Miami Heat's Tyler Johnson (8) at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento Calif. on Wednesday, March 14, 2018.
The Sacramento Kings' Frank Mason III (10) drives to the basket against the Miami Heat's Tyler Johnson (8) at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento Calif. on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. TNS

Five takeaways from the Heat’s 123-119 overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night:

1. Miami lost its ninth straight road game and the season series to the lottery-bound Kings for the first time since 2002.

A series of bad losses against lottery teams kept the Heat out of the playoffs last season. It probably won’t this time around because the Detroit Pistons (30-37) trail Miami (36-33) by five games and still have a series of tough road games left to play.

But the bad losses the Heat has racked up this season will likely keep Miami on track for a first round matchup with top seeds Toronto or Boston. Avoiding another ugly loss Wednesday was important. It didn’t happen. Miami remains a half game behind the Bucks for seventh place in the East – even after Milwaukee lost to lottery-bound Orlando earlier on Wednesday. It was a missed opportunity.

The Heat’s record versus the 12 teams in the league currently with losing records is 19-11. That seems good. But that’s really not good enough if you want to be something higher than a No. 7 or No. 8 seed. Miami plays seven of its final 13 games against lottery-bound teams (the Hawks twice, Knicks twice and the Lakers, Bulls and Nets once each) including Friday’s game in Los Angeles.

The Lakers crushed the Heat 131-113 last month in Miami.

Goran Dragic
Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic, center, discusses a foul call with referee Haywoode Workman during the first quarter of the team's NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings, Wednesday, March 14, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. At right is Heat guard Wayne Ellington. Rich Pedroncelli AP

2. Goran Dragic was sensational in the Heat’s fourth quarter comeback, but couldn’t get a shot off on a critical possession late as Miami failed to hold onto a 110-106 lead with under a minute to play.

Dragic, who re-entered the game with the Heat down 97-82 with 8:33 to play, scored 15 of his season-high matching 33 points in the fourth quarter including 11 points in a row during a 17-3 Heat run. Miami’s All-Star finished 11 of 21 shooting and was 8 of 9 from three throw line. But with the Heat ahead 110-109 and with the ball, Dragic dribbled down the shot clock and was unable to get a shot off before it expired.

“That play [when the shot clock expired] KO tried to slip the pick and roll on top,” Dragic said. “They defended it well and switched, basically inverted and it was good execution on their part.”

The game eventually went to overtime when De’Aaron Fox hit a running layup as time expired in regulation. But shortly before that, Kelly Olynyk made only one of two free throws with 2.3 seconds to play in regulation, leaving the door open for Fox’s big shot in the lane to tie the score. Needless to say there was a lot of regret in Miami’s locker room afterward.

“I don’t even know what to say,” Dragic said. “We got a lead by four points [110-106] then we gave up a wide open three and Fox made a tough shot at the end. I thought JJ made a good play. They called an offensive foul. It was kind of shaky. We need to start playing sooner. We cannot just turn the switch on and try to come back when we’re down 16 or 12. Then [our] game needs to be perfect. Every possession needs to go your way. Tonight we were not right. We allowed them to score close to 60 points in the first half. That’s too much.”

▪ The Heat, by the way, launched a franchise-record 43 three-point attempts and made a season-high tying 18. Wayne Ellington finished 6 of 17 from three-point range for 22 points. The 17 three-point attempts by Ellington were also a franchise record.

Defense
Sacramento Kings guard Frank Mason III, left, shoots as Miami Heat forward Kelly Olynyk defends during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 14, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. Rich Pedroncelli AP

3. Miami’s defense was putrid most of the night.

The Kings, the second-worst scoring team in the league (99.3 points per game coming in) and ranked 22nd in field goal percentage, shot 51.1 percent for the game and outscored the Heat 58-40 in the paint.

“We just weren’t able to defend it the way we’re capable of,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “A lot of middle drives. A lot of attack on pick and rolls. They also hit a lot of floaters in the paint. Those are not easy shots, not only for their bigs, but their guards. And then in the fourth quarter, we started to shut that down, as well. So it just required a much great commitment throughout the course of the game.”

Miami’s defensive rotations at times were disastrous with Kings players being left alone to take open shots several times – including Buddy Hield’s three-pointer which trimmed Miami’s lead to 110-109. Fox’s tying basket at the end of regulation came amid a sea of Heat arms and hands. Had the Heat played like that all night it would have avoided overtime.

Fox, who beat the Heat in Miami earlier this season with a late dunk, finished with 20 points. Hield had 24 and Zach Randolph had 22 points.

“We did not have a consistent defensive game,” Spoelstra said. “But we came storming back and had a four-point lead with less than a minute to go, and then gave up that wide-open three to Hield. We weren’t able to generate a look on that next possession, got jammed up. And then Fox made a heck of a play. So he’s put his fingerprints on both of our games down the stretch. It’s just unfortunate. The guys really battled, really put ourselves in the driver’s seat to get this game. In a different way, it just feels so much like that home game in Miami, where we’re up five and not able to close out. You do have to credit them. They played a great game. They played with tremendous energy. For most of the game, they played with more purpose and force than we did until that fourth quarter, where we really laid it all out there.”

Justise Winslow
Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow, left, drives against Sacramento Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 14, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. Rich Pedroncelli AP

4. Winslow, in the midst of a nice 13-game run since the NBA trade deadline, put up a stinker offensively.

He missed three open layups and then dribbled the ball off his foot out of bounds to start the fourth quarter.

Winslow, who played final 16 minutes and 59 seconds of the first half in part because James Johnson had three fouls, was gassed when the team went into the break. But his misses near the rim happened before all of that.

“I don't want to make an excuse,” Winslow said of his missed layups. “I’m not going to give you one. I’ve just got to make those.”

Although he’s shot the ball well from three-point range (44.3 percent) all season, Winslow has struggled finishing around the rim and in the paint. Wednesday’s performance was a reminder of that.

He finished with 10 points (4 of 12 shooting), seven rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes. Only Dragic (39 minutes) played more than he did.

5. With Josh Richardson out for the first time all season, the Heat unveiled its 22nd different starting lineup of the season – the same number of lineups Spoelstra shifted through last season.

Luke Babbitt replaced Richardson in the starting lineup and finished 0 for 3 in 14 minutes. Babbitt started alongside James Johnson, Bam Adebayo (who had a career-high 16 rebounds), Tyler Johnson and Dragic, a unit which had never played together.

The Heat’s most-used starting five last season was Dragic, Dion Waiters, Rodney McGruder, Babbitt and Hassan Whiteside. It went 20-5. The most-used lineup this season? Dragic, Richardson, Waiters, Whiteside and Winslow. That lineup is 6-4.

As far as minutes are concerned, the Heat lineup that has spent the most time on the floor together this season is Dragic, Richardson, Whiteside and the two Johnsons. Their 139 minutes on the floor together, in which they’ve been outscored by 26 points, ranks as the 69th most-used five-man lineups in the league. That’s troubling and yet another sign of how hard it is for Spoelstra to find consistency on this team.

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