CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Heat’s margin of error is small this season.
With a list of injuries and an inefficient offense, Miami can’t afford to have one bad half. The Heat can’t even afford to have one bad quarter.
Miami (10-23) learned that the hard way in Thursday’s 91-82 road loss to the Hornets (19-14) at the Spectrum Center. It marked the Heat’s sixth loss in the past seven games, as they move on to face the Celtics in Boston on the second night of a back-to-back Friday.
The Heat entered the third quarter with a 49-42 lead and ended it trailing 73-66. Charlotte outscored Miami 31-17 in the period.
“We don’t have an explanation for it right now,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Heat’s third quarter performance. “They did step up their defense, but we just weren’t coherent, didn’t get organized and we had some sloppy turnovers. We really paid the price for that.”
The third quarter was too much to overcome. Even 20 points from Josh Richardson and 18 points from Tyler Johnson wasn’t enough.
Kemba Walker led the Hornets with 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Here are our five takeaways from the game …
1. Josh Richardson playing best ball of the season: After battling through multiple injuries — a partially torn MCL in his right knee, sprained right ankle and sore shooting wrist — over the first 30-plus games of the season, it looks like Josh Richardson has reached his breakthrough moment. The second-year Heat guard finished Thursday’s loss with 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting. While those numbers are impressive, it’s the fact that Richardson has strung together consecutive efficient quality performances that’s important. He’s scored 42 points on 17-of-30 shooting over the past two games.
“My knee has been feeling a lot better,” Richardson said. “It felt sore and I didn’t feel like I could move like I wanted to. But I feel like I’ve been moving pretty well.”
2. Goran Dragic playing through pain: It’s clear that Goran Dragic is not 100 percent. But after missing one game due to lingering back spasms, Dragic returned for Thursday’s game. While the pain had subsided a bit, he admitted that “it’s still sore.” Dragic toughed it out, but he wasn’t too effective. He finished with five points on 2-of-11 shooting. It will be interesting to see how Dragic’s back responds Friday when the Heat face the Celtics in Boston on the second night of a back-to-back. Will he play? We’ll see Friday. The Heat are 1-5 in games that Dragic has missed this season.
“Goran probably shouldn’t have been out there,” Spoelstra said. “He just really wanted to be out there for his team and you could clearly see he wasn’t moving the way he normally does. He was probably at 50 percent, if that.”
3. Offensive rebounds hurting Heat: Make it two consecutive games the Heat have been dominated in the offensive rebound category. Charlotte grabbed 11 offensive rebounds to Miami’s four. Over the past two games, the Heat have been out-rebounded on the offensive glass 25-13. Giving up this many offensive rebounds negated Miami’s strong defense. The Heat limited the Hornets to 38.7 percent shooting, but Charlotte was able to take 11 more shots than Miami in part because of the offensive rebounds.
4. Too many turnovers: Turnovers haven’t really been an issue for the Heat this season. Miami is averaging the ninth-fewest turnovers per game (13.2) this season. But it was an issue Thursday in Charlotte. The Heat finished with 17 turnovers in the loss. Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic each committed a team-high four turnovers. It’s actually an issue that began a few games ago, as Miami is averaging 15.7 turnovers over its past six games.
5. Justise Winslow’s shooting struggles continue: After scoring a career-high 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting in a win over the Lakers last week, Justise Winslow has struggled. How bad is it? The Heat forward is shooting 22.9 percent over the three games since his career-best performance. For the season, Winslow is shooting 35.2 (75 of 204). He missed all nine of his shots Thursday, but he did finish with five rebounds and five assists. Shooting is obviously an area of his game that still needs work. Good thing for the Heat, Winslow is just 20 years old.
“It’s tough,” Winslow said of his 0-of-9 shooting performance. “When you’re out there, you want to help your team. That’s what I tried to do. The ball wasn’t going in for me, but I tried to defend, rebound and make plays for other guys. You just have to find different ways to make an impact on the game when the shot is not falling. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.”