The game had all the implications of a typical Miami Heat game this year.
Sleepwalk through the first half, give up a bunch of points to a bad team missing key players, and frantically make a comeback in the final minutes of the fourth quarter that’s capped off by a Ray Allen three-pointer assisted by LeBron James. Rinse and repeat.
Consider this the wake-up calls of all wake-up calls, the Heat didn’t just lose 105-101 to the Washington Wizards; they lost to the league’s worst team and yielded 105 points, 60 in the first 24 minutes alone, to a team that averages less than 90 points per game and playing without their lone star, John Wall, as well as a big man in Trevor Booker.
The Heat were playing without Shane Battier for a third consecutive game, Norris Cole was ruled out with a slightly pulled hamstring, and Mario Chalmers suffered a jammed finger that allowed him to play only ten minutes before sitting out the rest of the way. Like not having any of those players holds any merit as a viable excuse. Miami could have played without two members of their ‘Big Three’ and would still be expected to win.
Instead, what we’re getting is a team that’s uncommitted to defense and thinks that playing five minutes of good basketball in the fourth quarter is enough to enable the team to victory. That has worked before. Quite a few times, in fact. Against Washington, however, the shots that Ray Allen usually hit weren’t going in, and neither were Mike Miller’s or Udonis Haslem’s wide-open jump-shot opportunities.
Allen, Miller and Haslem combined to shoot 8-of-25 from the field, while Allen and Miller combined to shoot 6-of-17 from beyond the arc. When you’re already playing without two key role players, those types of numbers aren’t going to cut it. The case of Udonis Haslem’s offense is getting near the point of depressing as Joel Anthony (3-of-3 for 6 points against Washington) is proving to be a more legitimate option on the offensive end than Haslem, who is averaging less than four points per game on 47 percent shooting.
LeBron James would miss two three-pointers in the final seconds that could have tied the game. Naturally, the blame was going to fall on him for allowing this to happen, despite garnering his first triple double of the year. What most people don’t realize, however, is that this game should have never come down to whether or not LeBron James could hit a three-pointer in the final seconds.
A game against a team that stands at 1-13 should be an easy win for a team that is at the top of the NBA with a 12-3 record. It shouldn’t turn into a struggle on the defensive end. There’s no reason why a team that averages 20 free throws per game should nearly match that output in the first half, or why a team that averages 90 points per game should nearly have that output at the end of the third quarter.
Once again, it’s the Heat making a bad offense look great, which is something they’ve done a lot of this season. They allowed the Kyrie Irving-less Cavaliers to go off for 108 points or 100 points to a Spurs team playing without three All-Stars and the starting shooting guard and small forward. Miami is losing its defensive identity and there doesn’t seem to be much concern on the court.
Understood it’s just the regular season, but would it hurt for the defense to be respectable? The Heat ranked within the top five in points per game allowed the past two seasons, yet rank 21st in the same category this year, behind such defensive juggernauts as the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Hornets. They’re giving up 99 points per game, rank 28th in three-point makes allowed and dead last in three-point attempts allowed.
It’s not all just because of the insertion of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis and the exclusion of Joel Anthony. The Heat’s rotations are a step slow on what seems like every defensive possession. Quick, agile guards are getting to the rim with ease and three-point shooters are getting whatever shots they please, which explains why the Heat are allowing more three-point attempts than any other team in the NBA and also why there are only two teams that give up more three-point makes.
The Heat were bound to drop a game like this. SunSports had an excellent graphic on how fortunate the Heat have been in these instances:
You can’t keep playing with fire and expect not to get burned. The Heat faced a 12-point deficit in the third quarter against Washington and managed to tie it at 88 apiece midway through the fourth quarter. However, Allen and Miller would miss a series of wide-open jumpers, leading to the Wizards taking advantage with easy makes. The Heat’s defense tightened in the second half, giving up 45 points in the final 24 minutes, but the shots weren’t falling for Miami and it hurt greatly.
The Heat attempted 28 three-pointers and only made eight, good enough for a 29 shooting percentage from deep. Numbers like that haven’t been common this season and it’s why the Heat have been bailed out of so many games that they probably should have lost. This game against the Wizards proved that you can’t expect long jumpers to save you every game.
Face it: Performances like LeBron’s against Houston aren’t normal and doesn’t lead to consistent success. If the Heat want to avoid this problem, it’s simple: Play good basketball for more than half of the game, especially on the defensive end.
Games against the likes of Washington, Cleveland, and Phoenix shouldn’t come down to the wire. There’s a need for motivation on the defensive end and this loss to a Wizards team that was 1-13 going into Tuesday could be the instance where the Heat finally come back down to Earth and begin to think about taking regular season games somewhat seriously.