Five takeaways: Heat’s starting lineup continues to struggle in 103-97 loss to 76ers

Miami Heat’s Josh Richardson, left, shoots as Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, center, defends while Robert Covington, right, watches during the first half of an NBA basketball gam Friday, Feb. 2, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

PHILADELPHIA — The Heat rely on their defense to make up for their lack of offense on most nights.

But not even their defense or a 35-11 run late in the game was enough to overcome their offensive struggles, as the 76ers (25-24) beat the Heat 103-97 at Wells Fargo Center. The loss dropped Miami to 1-2 on its four-game trip, with Saturday’s matchup against the Pistons in Detroit on deck.

The Heat (29-23) have now scored less than 100 points in six consecutive games. Miami shot 39.1 percent from the field in Philadelphia.

“I really think these teams are really going through shootaround and really being detail oriented with the plays we run and the plays we get easy buckets off of,” Heat forward James Johnson said of the offensive struggles. “And they’re making them hard and we’re not making the right reads yet.”

The 76ers broke the game open in the third quarter with a 19-0 run to turn a seven-point lead into a 26-point lead. Philadelphia’s lead grew to as much as 28.

The Heat’s reserves put together an impressive run to get back in the game. With Philadelphia ahead 90-62 with 11:04 to play, Miami used a huge 35-11 run to cut the deficit to 101-97 with 24 seconds remaining behind 12 fourth-quarter points from Kelly Olynyk.

But that was as close as the Heat got.

“That’s the character of our group, but it’s tough to win in this league,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Heat’s late rally. “It can’t be just for periods of time. It has to be 48 minutes of that. and even that doesn’t guarantee anything because you’re playing against very good competition and Philly brought a good game to the table tonight.”

The Heat’s starting lineup struggled, scoring 40 points on 35.7 percent shooting. This starting group entered the game with the second-worst plus-minus of any five-man lineup on the team at minus-30 in 99 minutes.

“It was a tough loss. Starting unit we need to change something,” said starting point guard Goran Dragic, who finished with 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting. “The last few games we were not good. The bench plays with a lot of energy. They were unbelievable. They almost came back. But you need all 10, 11 players.”

Is a change to the Heat’s starting lineup coming?

“I don’t know,” Spoelstra said. “We’ll see. It’s easy to make snap judgements right now, but we’ll see when we get on to Detroit.”

The Heat’s bench scored 57 points, with Olynyk, Winslow and Adebayo leading the charge. Olynyk finished with 19 points and six rebounds, Winslow recorded seven points and 12 rebounds, and Adebayo contributed 15 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.

The 76ers were led by point guard Ben Simmons, who finished with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists.

Here are our five takeaways …

Heat offense still struggling: Miami’s defense is among the best in the league, but its offense … not so much. The Heat entered Friday ranked 26th out of 30 teams in offensive rating. The struggles continued in Philadelphia, as Miami shot 39.1 percent. This comes after the Heat shot 3-of-28 from 3-point range and made just 14-of-25 free throws while committing 20 turnovers in a loss to the Cavaliers on Wednesday. Miami’s defense is really good, but it hasn’t been good enough to overcome really bad offense recently. If the Heat want to hang on to one of the top four seeds in the East, they will have to improve in this area.

The Embiid-Whiteside matchup ends with Whiteside illness: After their Twitter back-and-forth following a preseason game in October, all eyes were on the Hassan Whiteside vs. Joel Embiid matchup at center. Embiid won the matchup and the game with 17 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, but committed six turnovers. Whiteside exited the game in the second half due to a stomach virus and finished with four points, nine rebounds and three blocks in 18 minutes. The Heat were outscored by 16 points with Whiteside on the court. Whiteside said he’s unsure if he will be able to play against the Pistons on Saturday.

“I threw up,” Whiteside said. “My stomach is bothering me. I threw up earlier and I felt like I had to go throw up. … The doctor came back and looked at me and said there’s a virus going around. Or it might have been something I ate.”

Bam!: While a lot of the attention was on the Hassan Whiteside-Joel Embiid matchup, Heat rookie center Bam Adebayo stole the spotlight. Adebayo gave Miami a lift off the bench, finishing with 15 points, 13 rebounds and six assists and playing impressive defense on Embiid. The Heat outscored the 76ers by 15 points with Adebayo on the court. The 20-year-old was especially impactful in the second half, as he recorded 11 points, 5 rebounds and four assists over the final two quarters. Adebayo has now recorded double-digit points in 10 games this season.

“You have to do it with incredible effort and great technique and discipline because Embiid is very clever, very skilled, knows how to draw fouls,” Spoelstra said of Adebayo. “Bam, for such a young player, is becoming a technician with his discipline and technique and studying players. He’ll definitely be able to build on that.”

Heat falling in standings: After spending a couple weeks in the Eastern Conference’s No. 4 spot, Miami fell in the standings Friday. The Heat’s loss in Philadelphia dropped them to No. 5, with the idle Washington Wizards passing them to jump into the No. 4 spot. The Heat have to be careful, with just 2.5 games separating them from the No. 8 seed. Expect a lot more changes in the standings over the final two months of the season. It’s going to be a wild ride.

See you again soon: Friday marked the first meeting of the season between the Heat and 76ers. But they will see a lot of each other over the next few weeks. The Heat and 76ers will face off three more times this season, with each matchup coming within the next five weeks. The Heat return to Philadelphia to face the 76ers on Feb. 14, and the final two games of the season series will be played in Miami on Feb. 27 and March 8. With both teams fighting for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference, each of these games will be important.

[What did Hassan Whiteside think about the Blake Griffin trade? ‘I’m glad he’s with a team that wants him’]

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