Now at 11-12 through 23 games, Miami Heat still searching for answers

From left, Miami Heat players Hassan Whiteside, Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Goran Dragic look on from the bench during the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017 at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Fla. (David Santiago/Miami Herald/TNS)

MIAMI — After the Heat’s third loss in four games, coach Erik Spoelstra admitted that Sunday’s defeat felt different.

After all, it came against the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors. The Heat (11-12) kept it close in the first half to enter the locker room down by just two points, but the Warriors outscored them 61-35 in the second half on their way to a 123-95 blowout win at AmericanAirlines Arena.

“I mean, this obviously felt different in the first half than the Cleveland and New York games,” Spoelstra said after Miami’s loss to Golden State. “So each game is different.”

In last week’s losses to the Cavaliers and Knicks — the first two losses during this four-game stretch — the Heat never gave themselves a chance. Miami never led in its 108-97 loss to Cleveland on Tuesday and found itself trailing by 21 points at halftime in its 115-86 loss to New York on Wednesday.

“It’s way different than New York,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said of Sunday’s loss to Golden State. “They have a lot of players who can make plays. That’s why they’re the world champions. They played well. The first half we competed with them, the second half we didn’t. You see the results.”

But subpar defense has been a reoccurring theme for the Heat during this four-game stretch. Miami ranks 23rd out of 30 teams in defensive rating during this six-day span, allowing 113.1 points per 100 possessions, and it’s not a coincidence that its top rim protector Hassan Whiteside has been out with a bone bruise on his left knee.

By comparison, the Heat are allowing 104.6 points per 100 possessions for the season.

The Warriors, which feature the league’s most efficient offensive attack, didn’t have an issue scoring against Miami. Golden State totaled 123 points on 56 percent shooting while committing just nine turnovers, with the help of 30 points from Stephen Curry and 24 points from Kevin Durant.

“We really wanted to come in trying to take away some of the easy ones,” Spoelstra said. “So they got a bunch of easy ones to start that third quarter and then the dam broke. And then they started making the tough ones. The tough ones, as long as we’re not fouling and we’re getting a contest? OK, that’s one thing. But the disappointing thing was all the easy ones, even in the first half that were given up on a lack of discipline.”

The Heat’s only win during this four-game stretch came Friday in a 105-100 victory over the Hornets, which have lost 10 of their past 13 games.

“You’re always concerned when you lose by a (big) margin,”  Dragic said after the loss to Golden State. “Tomorrow is a new day.”

A new day with a new challenge looming. It doesn’t get much easier for the Heat, as they prepare to embark on a three-game trip that begins Wednesday in San Antonio against the Spurs.

The Heat fell to the Spurs 117-100 in Miami earlier this season. San Antonio has won six of its past eight games.

“We’re going to dig in and find solutions and find a way collectively that we can get to more consistency,” Spoelstra said. “That’s the bottom line. We’ve been saying it enough, but we’ll find a way to get that done.”

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