Heat’s defensive slippage continues in ugly and costly loss to Nets. Takeaways and details

Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 129-100 blowout loss to the Brooklyn Nets (40-34) on Saturday night at Miami-Dade Arena to close a two-game homestand and fall back down to seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The Heat (40-35) now hits the road for a two-game trip that begins Tuesday against the Toronto Raptors:

The Heat’s defensive slippage continued in one of its worst losses of the season.

Prior to Saturday’s loss, the Heat had won seven of its previous 10 games despite owning the NBA’s 15th-ranked defensive rating during that span. Why? Because the Heat also held the fifth-ranked offensive rating during that stretch.

The Heat’s defensive slippage began a month ago. Miami entered the All-Star break with the league’s fifth-ranked defensive rating but has the 25th-ranked defense since the break.

“We have not been defending at a world class level the way we’re capable of,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

On Saturday, the Heat’s offense went cold in the second half and its recent defensive issues emerged as the major story line from the 29-point blowout defeat. It’s tied for Miami’s most lopsided loss of the season.

The Nets, which snapped a five-game losing skid with Saturday’s win, closed with 129 points on 49.4 percent shooting from the field, 18-of-40 (45 percent) shooting on threes and 23-of-25 (92 percent) shooting from the foul line while committing just eight turnovers to record a season-best single-game offensive rating of 146.6 points scored per 100 possessions.

For the Heat, Saturday’s mark of 146.6 points allowed per 100 possessions represented its worst single-game defensive rating in team history since the stat began being tracked in the 1996-97 season.

The Heat should have known it was in trouble when it entered halftime with just a four-point lead despite scoring an ultra-efficient 69 points while shooting 65.9 percent from the field and 9 of 15 (60 percent) on threes in the first two quarters.

The Heat led by as many as 14 points in the first half, but the Nets closed the second quarter on a 28-18 run to enter the break trailing by just four.

The Heat’s shooting then went cold in the third quarter, but it’s defensive issues continued.

The Nets opened the second half on a 31-6 run to turn a four-point halftime deficit into a 21-point lead with 3:58 left in the third quarter. Brooklyn ended up outscoring Miami 39-18 in a third quarter that highlighted the Heat’s recent problems on the defensive end to enter the final period ahead 104-87.

The Heat shot just 6 of 19 (31.6 percent) from the field and 1 of 5 (20 percent) on threes in its rough third quarter, while the Nets continued to shred the Heat’s defense to shoot 16 of 27 (59.3 percent) from the field and 6 of 11 (54.5 percent) from beyond the arc in the period.

The Nets’ lead ballooned to as many as 32 points in the fourth quarter.

“They did a good job of finding the open guy and not missing moments,” Spoelstra said. “The second half just became an avalanche from there and it didn’t necessarily matter what scheme we were in, we were just not doing it to the level that we’re capable of.”

The Heat was dominated 64-31 in the second half, as it shot just 11 of 39 (28.2 percent) from the field and 3 of 15 (20 percent) from three-point range in the final two quarters. With the second-half margin of 33 points, it marked the most points a team has outscored the Heat by in a half since it was outscored 71-36 (by 35 points) in the second half of a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on March 15, 2019.

To make matters worse, the Heat was outscored 29-14 in second-chance points in Saturday’s loss. The Nets finished with a 17-8 edge in offensive rebounds.

“Kudos to them,” Heat guard Tyler Herro said. “They did a great job setting us up, getting the shots they wanted. We got to be better. Tough loss for us.”

Six Nets players finished with double-digit points, led by a game-high 27 points from Mikal Bridges. Cameron Johnson scored 23 points for Brooklyn.

Herro scored 23 points for the Heat. Bam Adebayo contributed 16 points and seven rebounds. Jimmy Butler totaled 18 points, one rebound and five assists.

“We just got categorically outplayed tonight,” Spoelstra said. “You have to give them credit.”

The Nets clinched the 3-0 sweep of their regular-season series with the Heat. Two of those Nets wins over the Heat came after Brooklyn traded away stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in February.

The Heat is back in play-in tournament territory with two weeks left in the regular season.

With Saturday’s loss, the Heat fell from sixth place to seventh place in the East.

The No. 7 Heat (40-35) is now one-half game behind the No. 6 Nets (40-34) and two games behind the No. 5 New York Knicks (42-33).

The Nets also hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Heat after sweeping the regular-season series with the Heat 3-0. But the Heat would likely clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Knicks with a victory in the teams’ final matchup of the season on Wednesday in New York because Miami is on track to win its division.

To escape having to qualify for the playoffs through the play-in tournament, the Heat needs to finish as a top-six playoff seed in the East. The seventh through 10th-place teams in each conference participate in the play-in tournament.

The good news for the Heat is it likely won’t finish the regular season worse than seventh place in the East. Miami still holds a 2.5 game lead over the eighth-place Atlanta Hawks.

The Heat has seven games left on its regular-season schedule.

Butler was never able to take control of Saturday’s game for the Heat.

Since the All-Star break, Butler has arguably been the NBA’s best player. In his first 15 games since the break, Butler averaged 26.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while shooting an incredibly efficient 60.5 percent shooting from the field, 10 of 19 (52.6 percent) from three-point range and 85.1 percent from the free-throw line on 11.2 foul shots per game.

But Butler was relatively quiet in his 16th game since the break, finishing Saturday’s loss with 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field and 5-of-7 shooting from the foul line, one rebound and five assists in 33 minutes.

The performance snapped Butler’s string of nine straight games with more than 20 points. The Heat was outscored by a team-worst 33 points with Butler on the court Saturday.

The Heat’s rotation again did not include guard Victor Oladipo.

After opening with its usual starting lineup of Gabe Vincent, Herro, Butler, Kevin Love and Adebayo, the Heat went with a bench rotation of Max Strus, Kyle Lowry, Caleb Martin and Haywood Highsmith.

Oladipo received his fourth DNP-CD (did not play, coach’s decision) in the last five games, falling out of the rotation after Lowry’s recent return from injury. These are Oladipo’s first four DNP-CDs of the season after spending most of the schedule as a fixture in the Heat’s bench rotation.

And with center Cody Zeller missing his sixth straight game, the Heat’s rotation also didn’t feature a true backup center for the second consecutive game. The 6-5 Highsmith took Zeller’s place in the Heat’s power rotation, with the 6-8 Love instead sliding over to center when Adebayo was on the bench.

But the story of the night off the Heat’s bench was Strus, who totaled 23 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 shooting on threes in Saturday’s first half. It tied Strus’ NBA career-high for points in any half.

Strus was scoreless in the second half, missing each of his four field-goal attempts in the final two quarters.

While the result was definitely disappointing for the Heat, “UD Night” will be remembered.

There were Udonis Haslem posters handed out to fans in attendance, the unveiling of the new-look Section 305 dedicated to Haslem and Haslem tributes during stoppages of play throughout the game, as the organization continues to celebrate Haslem’s 20-year NBA career with its “4 Days of 40” campaign that began Thursday and ends Sunday.

Haslem, who has played a role on each of the Heat’s three championship teams in franchise history, will retire at the end of this season.

This week’s four-day celebration of Haslem’s NBA career comes to an end on Sunday, when a Miami Mashup edition of the 23rd annual Miami Heat Family Festival will feature Haslem-themed activations and experiences.

Expect more Haslem tributes during the Heat’s April 9 regular-season finale against the Orlando Magic in Miami, which will mark the final regular-season home game of Haslem’s NBA career.

And one day in the not-too-distant future — probably next season — the Heat will also retire Haslem’s No. 40 jersey.

Haslem has only appeared in six games this season and 64 regular-season games since the start of the 2016-17 season. His value toward the end of his playing career has come through his leadership, as he’s in his 16th consecutive season as a Heat captain.