As he tried to assess the state of the Miami Heat after a third straight loss to a shorthanded opponent Friday, Bam Adebayo started with a question: “This is our first three-game losing streak?” the star post player wondered aloud.
Not quite: The Heat also lost three in a row during the first month of the season, and again from the end of January into the beginning of February, but it’s easy to understand why Adebayo couldn’t remember those. Until this week, they were distant memories for Miami as it sat atop the Eastern Conference with a multiple-game lead for most of the last month.
The way these three losses went, though, made it the Heat’s worst three-game stretch of the year and it came right in the final month of the season, while Miami was trying to lock up the top spot in the Eastern Conference and get ready for the 2022 NBA playoffs.
“We shouldn’t have that at this point of the season,” Adebayo said Friday and then tried to temper any panic, “but I feel like every team goes through a losing streak.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra argued all three losses were different, but they did share a commonality in their awfulness.
On Monday, the Heat got outscored by six in the second half and lost to the Philadelphia 76ers, who were playing without superstars James Harden and Joel Embiid. On Wednesday, Miami got outscored by 14 in the second half of a blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors, who were without superstar guard Stephen Curry.
The loss Friday was a new low point. Unlike the 76ers and Warriors, the New York Knicks aren’t going to make the NBA playoffs and they were missing star post player Julius Randle, too. Still, the Heat blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead and the Knicks won 111-103 by outscoring Miami, 38-15, in the fourth.
The Heat began the week with a three-game lead on the second-place Milwaukee Bucks and it shrunk to a half game by the time it tipped off against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday at FTX Arena in Miami.
Jimmy Butler insists there’s no reason to panic, though, and pointed to the Heat’s larger track record of success this season.
“It’s not very concerning,” the All-Star forward said Friday. “We know we have to play better. We have to find a way to score some points and get some stops on the defensive end. We’re capable of it. We did it early on in the year. We just have to get back to that.”
The crunch-time offense, however, has never been a strength for Miami and the late-game struggles in the last week only further illuminates those concerns.
The NBA defines “clutch” time as games when the score is separated by five points or fewer in the last five minutes and the Heat ranks in the bottom half of the league in those minutes, getting outscored by 8.0 points per 100 possessions.
In clutch time, Miami’s defense has typically been good enough, holding opponents to 106.4 points per 100 possessions. Its offense, however, has been the fifth worst in the league, averaging just 98.4 points per 100 possessions.
Tyler Herro’s absence for the last two games certainly hurt — the guard leads the Heat in fourth-quarter minutes and scoring — but Miami doesn’t want to use it as an excuse. Nothing could excuse a week like this one, when Philadelphia, Golden State and New York combined to outscore the Heat by 60.5 points per 100 possessions in fourth quarters.
With five losses in eight games and the NBA playoffs set to start in three weeks, Miami is playing its worst at the worst possible time and doesn’t have long to figure things out.
“Offensively, we have to be better,” Spoelstra said Friday. “I have to figure out how I can help and get us in more of a flow, play with a bit more pace to get points on the board. … We haven’t scored the way we’re capable of. We’ll figure that out and get better at that.”