The injuries were just too much to overcome.
That’s a statement that held true Tuesday when the Heat (10-26) fell to the Suns 99-90 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix to start a six-game West Coast trip. Miami played the game with just eight healthy players available.
It’s a statement that’s held true for the Heat’s entire season so far, as a long list of injuries has hurt Miami since the start of the year.
The Heat have now lost six consecutive games and nine of their last 10 games. Miami has also dropped eight consecutive road games with their last road win coming in Utah on Dec. 1.
Devin Booker led the Suns (11-25) with a game-high 27 points. Tyson Chandler helped out with 20 rebounds.
Here are our five takeaways from the game …
1. Worn down: The Heat looked sharp in the first quarter, shooting 59.1 percent to take a 29-28 lead into the second period. But things went downhill from there. The Heat just didn’t have enough healthy bodies to keep up with Phoenix for 48 minutes. Miami managed to stay in it until halftime, trailing 56-52 at the break. But the Suns dominated the third quarter to take control of the game. Phoenix outscored Miami 27-14 in the third period, as the worn down Heat shot just 31.8 percent in the second half. Having just eight healthy players available on the road will have that effect on a team.
“Once we weren’t able to score, our defense suffered from there,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Heat’s poor third quarter. “We let it affect that end of the floor and then we paid the price for that. Once we got down double digits, it was an uphill battle the rest of the way. It wasn’t a matter of not competing. We just weren’t able to consistently defend regardless of what happened on the other end.”
2. Welcome back: Goran Dragic had not been himself since his back spasms began in a loss to the Pelicans on Dec. 23. But the point guard sure did look like himself in Tuesday’s loss to the Suns. Dragic played well with 24 points and nine assists in 38 minutes. Most of those numbers came in an impressive first half performance, as he recorded 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting over the first two quarters. The back injury forced Dragic to miss three of the Heat’s four games preceding Tuesday’s contest in Phoenix. The one game Dragic did play in during that stretch — Thursday’s loss in Charlotte — he struggled with five points on 2-of-11 shooting. But Tuesday’s performance was a good sign for the Heat because Dragic looked like himself again.
“In a perfect world, I would have liked to have played him about 30 minutes and get the ball out of his hands some with other guys,” Spoelstra said. “He was having to make a lot of plays and they were trapping. But, boy, you love Goran Dragic and his competitiveness. Being out three of the last four games and having a tight back, he was ready to play 40 minutes or whatever was needed.”
3. Paint points down: With Hassan Whiteside, Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson and James Johnson among the Heat players out Tuesday, Miami’s paint production suffered against the Suns. The Heat were outscored 46-34 in the paint in Phoenix. It’s the second consecutive game Miami has struggled to score in the paint, as the Pistons outscored the Heat 42-26 in the paint on Sunday. Only 15 of Miami’s 77 shots in that loss to Detroit came at the rim. The fatigue that comes along with having an injury-depleted roster could be the reason behind this recent trend, as it’s a lot easier to settle for jump shots than drive to the basket. Miami entered Tuesday’s game ranked 13th in the NBA with 43.9 paint points per game this season.
4. The replacement: Whenever the Heat’s $98 million center can’t play, it’s never good for Miami. But Willie Reed softened the blow with a solid performance in Hassan Whiteside’s place. Reed finished Tuesday’s loss with a career-high 22 points and 18 rebounds in 32 minutes. Whiteside did not travel with the team to Phoenix as he recovers from a right retinal contusion and he will likely miss Wednesday’s game against the Kings, too. That means Reed will try to build on Tuesday’s performance against Sacramento All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins. Reed entered this season with just two NBA starts under his belt. So although the Heat want Whiteside back as soon as possible, this is really good experience for the 26-year-old Reed.
“He was setting good screens, he was rebounding, he was vocal on defense and he played with a lot of energy,” Dragic said of Reed. “That shows you those guys are working hard and when their names are called or somebody is hurt, they’re going to step in and play big minutes. Willie did that tonight. I’m proud of him.”
5. Shorthanded … again: Injuries impacted the Heat again Tuesday. Miami played with the NBA minimum of eight available players with Hassan Whiteside (eye), Justise Winslow (shoulder), Josh McRoberts (foot), Dion Waiters (groin), James Johnson (illness) and Tyler Johnson (migraine) all out. That left Udonis Haslem, Derrick Williams and Wayne Ellington as the Heat’s only options off the bench in Phoenix. This is nothing new for Miami, as it’s dealt with injuries since the start of the season. 14 Heat players (including Chris Bosh) have combined to miss 147 games due to injuries over the first 36 games of the season. It forced Miami to use its 15th different starting lineup of the season Tuesday — Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, Luke Babbitt and Willie Reed.