MIAMI — The Heat’s margin of error is small.
Without a superstar on the roster, they can’t afford to take a few minutes off in a game and they definitely can’t afford to take a whole quarter off. Miami (7-9) learned that lesson again Sunday the hard way, as a poor third quarter led to an ugly 120-95 loss to the Pacers (9-8) at AmericanAirlines Arena.
This discouraging loss comes just two days after the Heat’s win over the Wizards — Miami’s first victory over a winning team. Inconsistency within games and inconsistency from game to game continues to plague the Heat.
“Look, I don’t have an answer to our unreliability right now,” an angry coach Erik Spoelstra said to start his post-game press conference. “We had our most inspiring effort — not perfect game — but inspiring effort in Washington, and then this is the other side of us. I don’t have an answer for it.
“One way or another, we’re going to get down to the bottom of it. Because that’s pretty much my comment right now, everything else I need to look at the film, assess, and find some solutions. I don’t have answers right now for why we give up 120 points and have uninspiring play. I don’t.”
The Heat led by as many as six points in the first half, but Indiana outscored Miami 32-13 in the third quarter to break the game open. The Pacers outscored the Heat 73-43 over the final 26 minutes and six seconds of the game.
Led by 26 points from Bojan Bogdanovic and 25 points from Myles Turner, the Pacers shot 60 percent from the field.
When Spoelstra was asked if there was enough sustained effort from the Heat in the loss, he pointed to Indiana’s offensive numbers.
“They scored 120 points and shot 60 percent,” he answered. “That’s a rhetorical question with a rhetorical answer.”
While Spoelstra admitted he doesn’t have the answer to the Heat’s inconsistency right now, he made it clear the team’s issues will be addressed.
“We will find a solution one way or another to get this team playing Miami Heat basketball,” he said.
Here are our five takeaways …
Third quarter struggles: The Heat entered as the league’s sixth-worst third-quarter team, as they had been outscored by a combined total of 40 points in the period. That number got a lot worse Sunday, as the Pacers outscored the Heat 32-13 in the third quarter to break the game open and take a 22-point lead into the fourth. Miami shot 6-of-19 (31.6 percent) from the field and committed six turnovers in the third quarter. Aside from not being able to make many shots, the Heat couldn’t get many stops either. The Pacers shot 14-of-22 (63.6 percent) from the field in the period. It doesn’t matter if this type of play comes in the first, second, third or fourth quarter. A quarter this bad is really, really tough to overcome.
Too many threes: The Heat are on pace to set a new franchise record for 3-pointers attempted in a season. Sunday is a perfect example why. Miami tied a season-high with 37 3-pointers attempted and made 13 of them. Wayne Ellington led the charge, shooting 7-of-12 from long range off the Heat’s bench. The 3-pointer is obviously a big part of the Heat’s offensive attack. But how much is too much? While the Heat attempted 37 threes against the Pacers, they also only shot 14 free throws. Aggressiveness is a big part of Miami’s drive-and-kick attack, and those numbers seem to represent a lack of aggressiveness in terms of getting shots closer to the rim. Miami shattered its previous record for 3-point shot attempts in a single season with 2,213 last year. But with the Heat on pace to shoot 2,608 threes this year, it looks like a new record will be set for the second consecutive season. It’s still to be determined if that’s a positive thing.
“Coach talked to us. He said we needed to get in the paint more,” center Hassan Whiteside said. “You know, the last eight games, I don’t know, we just fell in love with threes or whatever it is. We need to get in the paint more. It helps with rebounding, too, so we can really punish people in the glass and get them guys in the paint. Because we’re an attacking team. We’re not a 3-point shooting team, barrage team, like Houston and the Warriors.”
Inefficient Dion: The Heat’s hope is that Dion Waiters becomes a more efficient player during the course of his four-year contract. But it’s been a struggle for Waiters recently. The Heat’s starting shooting guard finished scoreless on 0-of-10 shooting Sunday. He’s now averaging 14.1 points on 36.2 percent shooting over his past eight games. Miami needs the Waiters who averaged 18.4 points on 46.7 percent shooting during the 30-11 finish to last season. Efficiency (or lack thereof) will continue to be a big part of the 25-year-old’s development.
Whiteside vs. Turner: We didn’t get to see the Hassan Whiteside vs. Myles Turner matchup at center when the Heat faced the Pacers in the second game of the season on Oct. 21. Whiteside was out with a bone bruise in his left knee and Turner was out with a concussion and sore neck. But Whiteside and Turner were available Sunday. Turner won the individual matchup with 25 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and most importantly the win. Whiteside finished with 15 points and eight rebounds.
What’s next?: At 7-9, the Heat need some wins to stay around .500. But it’s not going to be easy. Next up for Miami is a matchup against the hot Boston Celtics (15-2) on Wednesday. The Heat will then hit the road for a four-game trip that begins with a contest against the talented Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday. Three of the four games on the road trip come against winning teams — the Timberwolves, Cavaliers and Knicks. This is going to be a critical stretch for the Heat, as they fight to keep this season from spiraling in the wrong direction.
“There is no answer,” Ellington said of the Heat’s inconsistency. “But we understand that it’s a problem that we have. The consistency, our effort and energy, that’s something we can control. We can’t control if shots are going to fall every night. But we can control if we come in here with the same effort every night and energy. I think sometimes we forget about that bad taste that we had in our mouth after last season. That’s something that we got to come here every night and remember.”