Five takeaways: Heat cannot stop James Harden, drop fifth straight, 109-101 to Rockets

Houston Rockets guard James Harden goes up for a shot against Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MIAMI – With the clock ticking down to the trade deadline, the Miami Heat continue to give Pat Riley every reason to make some kind of move.

The Heat dropped their fifth consecutive game Wednesday, losing 109-101 to the Houston Rockets at AmericanAirlines Arena. Miami battled back from a 17-point second-quarter deficit and led early in the fourth quarter but were outscored 24-14 in the final 8:46.

The Heat fell to 29-26 overall, 13-12 at home.

Making matters worse, the injury bug has returned, with Kelly Olynyk (shoulder) and Wayne Ellington (shoulder) sidelined Wednesday.

“We’re not looking for moral victories at all,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We feel that we’re a very good basketball team and we’re not as far off as people probably think right now. We’ve been in 10 straight of these (close) games and we haven’t been able to get over the hump in the majority of them.”

Josh Richardson and Goran Dragic led the Heat with 30 points each. Richardson set a career high in points and 3-pointers, making 7-of-9.

“We can’t keep coming out and losing games that we should be winning,” Richardson said. “But I think tonight we did a good job of competing. But I think if we played like we did today, we win our last game.”

The Heat could not stop James Harden, who led all scorers with 41 points. Harden was 13-of-25 from the floor, including 5-of-12 on threes. Chris Paul added 24 points.

“James is one of the best guards in the world and I mean he knows how to get fouled, he knows how to score, he knows how to play-make for his teammates,” Richardson said. “The game just seems to come very easy to him. It seems like he has the game slowed down a lot more than pretty much anybody. So just watching him play, I give him a lot of props. He’s a tough guard.”

Heat falter down the stretch: Miami led 87-85 early in the fourth quarter before the Rockets went on a 9-0 run and never were threatened. Houston ended the game on a 24-14 run with Harden sealing the victory with consecutive threes that pushed Houston’s lead to 107-94 with two minutes remaining. Houston connected on eight of its final 13 shots, including four 3-pointers.

“You know they’re a tough team,” Dragic said. “They can score and we were right there. They were just making some really tough plays on us, especially James Harden with those two threes at the end that kind of hurt us. We have to look at good things, positive things because we were right there.”

Dynamic duo: Dragic and Richardson kept the Heat in the game, with Dragic scoring the team’s final 10 points of the first half and Richardson scoring eight consecutive points early in the third quarter as Miami battled back. But the two players received little help down the stretch. They were a combined 22-of-37, including 9-of-13 on 3-pointers. The rest of the team shot 17-of-51.

“My challenge to (Richardson) now is when we’re at full strength, to play with that kind of assertiveness, that kind of aggressiveness and take on that kind of responsibility for our basketball team,” Spoelstra said. “He was terrific on both ends tonight.”

Harden has his way: The Heat had no answer for Harden. The league’s leading scorer had 13 of his points in the fourth quarter, making all but one of his five shots and all three 3-pointers. Derrick Jones Jr. drew the assignment to start the game and Harden had 10 points in the first five minutes and 16 in the first quarter. He had 23 points in the first half. Justise Winslow and James Johnson also had their chances to stop Harden and failed. Richardson was the only player with any kind of success guarding Harden, and that was minimal.

“He’s whatever the three-level player (and) you add the ability to draw fouls you got a four-dimensional player,” Spoelstra said. “He can get you to the rim, he gets you in mid-range, he can get you from the three, he can draw fouls and obviously he can facilitate. And then when the game was on the line, that’s probably when he was at his best tonight.”

Starting lineup No. 18: Jones Jr. rejoined the Heat from Sioux Falls, S.D., on Wednesday and was immediately inserted as a starter. Jones took Olynyk’s spot in the lineup and played small forward with Winslow sliding to power forward alongside Hassan Whiteside. Dragic and Richardson were in the backcourt. This marked Spoelstra’s 18th different starting lineup.

And then there was one: With Olynyk (shoulder) and Ellington (shoulder) out Wednesday, Richardson is the only remaining player who has appeared in every game this season. Olynyk suffered a strain Monday when he ran into a pick set by Orlando’s Bismack Biyombo. Ellington was injured in the same game and the same way, fighting through a pick. Both players were ruled out before Wednesday’s tip.

“Everybody is trying to push through until we get to the All-Star break,” Spoelstra said.

[With NBA trade deadline approaching, Erik Spoelstra says: ‘Business is always open’]

[Heat call on Derrick Jones Jr. for reinforcement with Kelly Olynyk, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow ailing]

[Mailbag: Does trading for Tyreke Evans make sense for the Heat?]

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