MIAMI – The playoffs appear to be slipping away for the Miami Heat.
For the second straight game, the Heat played from behind for nearly the entire time against a sub .500 team at home and never could put together a run. This time it resulted in a 116-113 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
Miami (37-40) drops its second straight home game to a team with a losing record and could not take advantage of the Pacers losing. The Heat remain tied with Indiana in the standings, but hold onto the eighth seed in the playoffs by virtue of the tie-breaker. Miami, though, has five games remaining, its final four against teams with winning records.
“This is like our playoffs right now and it’s been like that for awhile,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our guys are laying it all out there but they haven’t been able to get the job done the last couple of games and now we just have to quiet all the noise.”
The Heat had two one-point leads that lasted a total of 50 seconds after the Nuggets jumped out to an early 12-point lead.
Miami trailed by six with two minutes to play and battled back, again, with a chance to tie it at the end, but Josh Richardson shot an air ball on a contested 3-pointer.
Goran Dragic led the Heat with 22 points and Richardson had 17, 11 in the fourth quarter. Hassan Whiteside recorded his 53rd double-double of the season with 16 points and 12 rebounds. He also had three blocks.
Denver’s Danilo Gallinari led all scorers with 29 points.
“Two teams came in with extreme urgency tonight, one team played better and consequently they got the win,” Spoelstra said.
Here are our five takeaways from the crushing loss.
Hitting the wall: The Heat look as though their run, going from 11-30 to three times climbing to within a game of .500, may have taken too much out of them. Miami has played two very similar games against the Knicks and Nuggets, playing from behind virtually the entire game, taking a couple of one-point leads but never able to muster enough to extend the lead. As a result, Spoelstra is giving the team the day off before it begins its three-game road trip Wednesday in Charlotte.
“I told them to really be disciplined with this,” Spoelstra said. “That’s as important as anything, just cleanse your minds, enjoy your family. Our guys have been locked in for several weeks. This is not at all a matter of our guys not understanding the situation. Our guys not coming without an urgency.”
Controversy: With 10.2 seconds to play and Denver leading by one point, the Nuggets called two timeouts while trying to inbound the ball. The Heat vehemently argued that Nikola Jokic traveled before calling the first time out and said it happened again before the second one.
“I’m actually surprised he didn’t make the call it’ll probably come out tomorrow it was a travel,” Spoelstra said about official Ron Garretson. “The first one definitely looked like a travel.”
The Nuggets finally got the ball in play and Jamal Murray hit two free throws with 9.5 seconds to play to extend Denver’s lead to three points.
“He walked,” Whiteside said. “I don’t want to speak on it too much because the NBA loves fining people for a lot of money.”
Whiteside not happy: Whiteside was not happy with his teammates, saying they tried to play “hero ball” in the fourth quarter. Whiteside finished 6-of-12 from the field but was scoreless in the final quarter, missing his only shot.
“They’re last in the NBA on defense, we should have worked it a little more (down the stretch),” he said. “We tried to play hero ball. Our guys tried to come down and go 1-on-3 and get it stolen or blocked. At the end we (needed) to run some plays, make them work on the defensive end.”
Whiteside’s 53rd double-double tied Rony Seikaly’s franchise single season record.
Defensive breakdown: Spoelstra spent two days talking about Denver’s offensive proficiency and everybody got so see what he was talking about. The Nuggets played most of the game as if they were in a layup drill and their shooting percentage reflected that. The Nuggets followed their 37 point first quarter with a 31 point second quarter. They ended the half shooting 56 percent. Miami tightened up the defense in the second half – Denver closed the game shooting 50.6 percent – but it wasn’t enough.
“We were fighting an uphill battle for three quarters and in the NBA teams are too good to do that,” Richardson said. “It’s hard to get back into the game especially against a team that can score like the Nuggets.”
Still alive but it’s not looking good: Even with the loss, the Heat continue to hold down the eighth spot in the East because the team they are competing with, Indiana, lost at Cleveland, 135-130, in double overtime, for its sixth loss in its last seven games. The Bulls, though, continue to pull away from Miami and Indiana. Chicago, No. 7, defeated New Orleans and now are one game up on both teams with the tie-breaker on both.