The Miami Heat, once again, found itself playing from behind.
Just like its three most recent losses before it, the Heat finished the first quarter with a deficit as the opposition’s offense found ways to carve up Miami’s defense.
This time, though, with the Heat shorthanded and playing on the second night of a back-to-back, there were almost no signs of hope that Miami could find a way to claw back and make the game competitive over the remaining 36 minutes in its 124-102 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday at Fiserv Forum.
Yes, the Heat was outplayed in just about every facet of that game, but the first-period defensive struggles that took place Saturday are a microcosm of a problem the Heat hopes to address.
The Bucks outscored the Heat 34-23 in the opening quarter on Saturday.
It was the fourth time in the last six games Miami gave up at least 30 points in the first quarter. The Heat lost all four of those games, falling to 14-10 on the season in the process.
The streak started with Miami’s 113-101 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 24, when the Heat fell behind 30-27 in the first quarter. After that, it was a 32-23 deficit after 12 minutes in an eventual 120-111 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Monday and falling behind 31-16 to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday in a 111-85 loss before their latest bout of early struggles on Saturday in Milwaukee.
“I want to make sure that that doesn’t turn into a trend,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “So we’re going to dig into that.”
Miami allowed Milwaukee to shoot 52.2 percent from the field while going just 8 for 22 (36.4 percent) themselves. The Heat missed its first six shots on Saturday and made baskets on consecutive possessions just once in the first 12 minutes.
“We didn’t really make shots,” said guard Tyler Herro, who scored 15 points but was just 4 for 17 from the field on Saturday. “We weren’t able to get open looks.”
Herro said the first-quarter discrepancy came down to the Bucks playing “a lot more physical” than the Heat.
“They sped us up,” Herro said, “and got us out of our normal offense. ... They made a lot more plays, [won more] 50-50 balls. They really dominated.”
Another trend in the wrong direction for the Heat that was on full display Saturday: The team’s downtick in rebounding.
The Heat began the season as one of the top rebounding teams in the league. It led all 30 teams with an average of 48.6 total rebounds per game through its first 14 games of the season.
In the 10 games since? The Heat is 29th in average total rebounds (38.8) and defensive rebounds (29.7) while ranking a slightly better but still below league average 23rd in offensive rebounds (9.1).
Not having Bam Adebayo in the lineup the last three games and Jimmy Butler the past four hasn’t helped, but the slip in production on the glass predates their injuries.
“I think it has to be a big re-focus and re-commitment to it,” Spoelstra said. “Through the first five, six weeks of the season, we were one of the top rebounding teams in the league. And we came into training camp, the preseason, start of the season, as that being an emphasis. There was an emphasis, but it’s getting away from us a little bit. We have to make sure that we get to finishing possessions the way we’re capable of.”
On Saturday, the rebounding difference was 57-39 in favor of the Bucks, including a 19-9 edge in offensive rebounds.
“You just got to go get it, whether you’re going to hit bodies, whether you’re going on top to try to get ‘em. Regardless, you got to get up,” forward P.J. Tucker said. “I don’t care how you get them, if you’re in man, if you’re in zone. You got to turn, you got to find a man to hit.”
The Heat plays its next three games at FTX Arena — Monday against the Memphis Grizzlies, Wednesday against the Bucks and Saturday against the Chicago Bulls — before going on a four-game road trip.
In an ideal scenario, Butler will return during this homestand after missing the last four games with a tailbone contusion.
Butler is listed as questionable for Monday, and there is optimism that he’ll be able to play.
Adebayo, Markieff Morris, Victor Oladipo and Marcus Garrett, meanwhile, all remain out.
“Regardless,” Spoelstra said, “the NBA doesn’t stop. Our schedule doesn’t stop. We have enough, but we have to get back to Miami, get some rest and get ready for the game on Monday, which was what we already talked about in the locker room after the game.”