Every step forward has been followed by a step back during this Heat season that has served up more exasperation than exhilaration.
That demoralizing trend continued at a most inopportune time this weekend, with a 129-100 home drubbing against the Brooklyn Nets – a loss that pushed Miami back into the seventh seed, which would require the Heat needing to play its way into the postseason in the days following the regular season.
“This locker room doesn’t want to be in the play-in,” Tyler Herro said after the Heat’s most lopsided home loss since a 144-97 setback against Milwaukee in December 2020. “That’s not obviously on our radar. We want to be in the top six and we feel like we have a great opportunity.”
But those opportunities are closing.
The sixth-seeded Nets entered Sunday’s game against Orlando with a half game lead over the Heat (40-35) and an easier remaining schedule. And the Nets own the tiebreaker with Miami if the teams finish tied.
The Heat trails the fifth-seeded Knicks (42-33) by two games, with New York set to host Houston on Monday before the Heat visits on Wednesday.
Miami very likely needs to win that game in New York to have any chance to overtake the Knicks.
Seventh-seeded Miami entered Sunday 2.5 games ahead of No. 8 Atlanta and would host the Hawks in an April 11 play-in game if the teams finish in those positions.
Saturday’s loss was an embarrassment; the Nets opened the second half on a 31-6 run and outscored Miami 64-31 in the second half.
“I know it’s unfortunate,” Kyle Lowry said. “But they played better than us; they were the better team tonight.”
Among the problems that have surfaced since the All-Star break:
▪ The Heat’s defense has been uncommonly bad, permitting 119.1 points per 100 possessions, which is sixth worst in the league since the All-Star break.
Bam Adebayo on Saturday spoke of “lack of communication” on defense when the team “gets fatigued.”
Lowry noted Saturday that the Heat has been playing less zone since the All Star break and suggested that might be speeding up the games and hurting Miami. Erik Spoelstra curtailed use of the zone because he said teams “torched” Miami the last few times he used it.
Since the All-Star break, every Heat rotation player except Jimmy Butler, Lowry and Tyler Herro has permitted the player he’s guarding to shoot at least 50 percent.
Kevin Love, whose lack of footspeed was an issue on Saturday, is allowing the player he’s guarding to shoot 56.3 percent since joining the Heat, compared with the 50 percent those players shoot overall.
Adebayo is permitting an unusually high 51.2 field goal percentage since the All-Star break; those same players are shooting 49.3 overall.
▪ Speaking of Adebayo… the regression in his play since the All-Star break has been puzzling. He’s down in every statistical category, including points per game (21.6 before the All Star break, 18.6 after) and most glaringly, rebounds (10.0 before to 6.9 after).
Adebayo has reached double figures in rebounds only twice in 15 games since the All Star break. On Saturday, he mustered just seven as the Nets pounded the Heat on the boards, 45-32.
▪ Rebounding and second chance points. Miami permitted 29 second-chance points to the Nets, most by a Heat opponent this season, off 17 offensive rebounds.
Since the All Star break, Miami is 14th worst in the league in second chance points allowed and 10th worst in defensive rebounding.
“A lot of it was the dribble penetration kicks and then scrambling from there and then the body positioning,” Spoelstra said of the Nets’ second chances. “It wasn’t necessarily a size thing. We’ve been one of the better rebounding teams in the entire league all year long. But that also has been something that’s been crippling to us at times. When we don’t rebound, it’s been proven to be extremely costly.”
The Heat is 21st in the league in rebounding differential overall this season.
▪ The insertion of Love in the starting lineup hasn’t produced dividends.
Love is shooting just 29.6 percent on threes (21 for 71) and the Heat has been outscored by five points with Love on the court.
The starting lineup of Love, Butler, Adebayo, Herro and Gabe Vincent has been outscored by 12 points in 214 minutes over Love’s 15 games with the team.
What’s more, the Heat has been outscored by 17 points in the 246 minutes that Love and Adebayo have played together. Miami gives up about two points more per 48 minutes when Love and Adebayo are paired.
Adebayo has played much better alongside Caleb Martin, who was removed from the starting lineup when Love joined the team. Lineups including Adebayo and Martin together are a plus 76.
If you’ve waited for Spoelstra or a Heat player to unleash an angry diatribe after a game, or say he’s fed up, that simply hasn’t happened, at least not in front of the cameras.
Have there been angry fits of rage behind closed doors?
While Spoelstra has become angry at times, generally “it’s been more calm” in the reaction, Martin said. “We get more disappointed than anything. It’s a lot more controlled [anger] and a way of handling it more maturely. It’s not [manifesting itself in] outbursts. It’s more trying to figure things out.”
Udonis Haslem said Friday that “having a mediocre season is frustrating. I see a tremendous opportunity in front of us. I’m hoping all the trials and tribulations of this season have prepared us for this last run. I don’t think there’s any team in the NBA that has been through more than we’ve been through.”
The Heat next plays Tuesday at Toronto (7:30 p.m., TNT).
Saturday was “disappointing for all of us,” Adebayo said. “It’s one of those losses where you know it costs you something. But you still have games left to play. We are going to keep fighting. There’s always another game to be played. You can’t really harp on this loss even though it’s one of those bad ones.”