Five takeaways: Heat get off to hot start, cool down, fall to Thunder, now seventh in East

Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson drives past Oklahoma City Thunder guard Alex Abrines during the first half of Monday’s game. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MIAMI – The Miami Heat have one game remaining and still could wind up playing any one of four opponents in the playoffs, which start this weekend.

The Heat started fast but Oklahoma City chipped away at the 18 point deficit before dominating the Heat in the fourth quarter in a 115-93 victory Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena. Miami led 23-5 and held the Thunder without a field goal for the first 7:13 of the game but could not stop the desperate Thunder and Russell Westbrook.

With the Bucks defeating the Magic, the Heat (43-38) dropped to No. 7 in the East and do not control their destiny for the No. 6 spot. Miami, though, still can finish sixth with a victory over Toronto and a Milwaukee loss at Philadelphia on Wednesday, the final day of the regular season.

Westbrook led the Thunder with 23 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists, his 25th triple-double this season and 104th of his career. The win secured a playoff spot for the Thunder (47-34) in the competitive Western Conference.

“This was an important game for them,” Dwyane Wade said. “I thought we came out with the right mindset. I thought eventually they just got things to go their way. The game turned in their favor. I don’t know if it would have happened like that if they didn’t need it to go to the playoffs. I don’t know. The ball started bouncing their way and they started getting out. They made a lot of shots tonight.

The Heat (43-38) have known for more than a week they were in the playoffs, but Miami still can finish anywhere from No. 6 to No. 8 in the East. The Heat’s seeding and opponent will be determined Wednesday, the final night of the regular season, when they play Toronto.

OKC outscored the Heat 16-4 to end the first quarter and the game was close the rest of the way until the Thunder dominated the fourth quarter, outscoring the Heat 39-12.

Josh Richardson led the Heat with 18 points. Hassan Whiteside had 16 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.

Paul George led OKC with 27 points. OKC shot 14-of-35 on 3-pointers while the Heat were 5-of-22 from long distance. The biggest disparity was at the line where OKC was 31 of 38 and the Heat were 8 of 14.

Here are our five takeaways:

Heat cool off after fast start: Miami got off to one of its best starts of the season, jumping to a 23-5 lead as the Thunder missed their first 10 shots. Finally, with 4:47 to play in the first quarter, Alex Abrines knocked down a 3-pointer to give OKC its first field goal. Its only points other than three free throws from Paul George and two from Carmelo Anthony. OKC slowly chipped away at the Heat’s lead, tying the game twice in the third quarter before  taking their first lead, 85-84, with 10:28 to play. The Thunder then extended the lead to 14 points with 3:47 to play as the Heat went ice cold from the floor.

“Obviously, a tough fourth quarter,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. :Once it was 92-89, I believe then they just went on a huge run (23-4 to end the game). Most of them were free throws or in transition. But the next thing you know, it’s a three-point game and it’s a 16-point game just like that. A lot of good things up to that point and then because of the free throws, we didn’t handle it well and keep our mental stability enough to execute through that. We took some tough shots and they capitalized on that.”

Regular season winding down: The Heat have one game remaining, Wednesday at home against Toronto that will have some meaning. Miami still is looking to sew up the sixth seed and can do so with a victory over the Raptors and a Philadelphia victory over Milwaukee. Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia and Cleveland remain in play as possible first-round opponents for the Heat. While that list could be whittled down depending on Tuesday’s results, Miami will not know who it plays this weekend until Wednesday’s games are final.

“Of course, we would like to finish the season with a win,” Goran Dragic said. “But we know that we’re playing against Toronto, so we’re going to see what’s going to happen (the playoff race).”

Whiteside with a solid effort: The Heat liked what they saw from Whiteside, who was engaged early and neutralized OKC center Steven Adams. Whiteside missed the teams’ first meeting last month and Adams had his way in the Thunder’s 105-99 win with 24 points and 12 rebounds. He shot 9 of 13 and helped OKC outrebound the Heat, 51-41. But 30 seconds into the Monday’s game Whiteside got his first block, on Adams, and sent back a Paul George shot a couple of possessions later. Adams finished with seven points and three rebounds.

Richardson shows offense early, quiet late: Spoelstra endorsed Richardson for first-team All-defense before Monday’s game and while Richardson played a role in the Heat’s early defense holding OKC without a field goal for the first 7:13 of the game, his offense sparked the Heat early, with nine first quarter points. Richardson was the Heat’s best player for the month of December but he has been inconsistent of late with one 20-point game in his last 25. The could really used the Richardson they saw in December in the postseason when point are harder to come by. Richardson banged knees late in the game but coach Erik Spoelstra said he will be OK.

Following the game, Richardson was just trying to figure out what happened in the fourth quarter.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I was trying to figure it out after the game. I just don’t think we were mentally tough when the game was going the other way and then it snowballed. It sucks. It feels like you’re bleeding and you can’t stop it. And you’re trying, but they’re just making you pay.”

Ellington (likely) to fall shy of franchise 3-point mark: Entering the game, Wayne Ellington needed eight 3-pointers to set the Heat franchise record for the most in a season. But Ellington struggled form the floor Monday missing all but one of his four threes and scoring three. Ellington has 219 threes, meaning he needs to tie and seven to break the record on the regular-season finale. Damon Jones holds the mark, making 225 threes in 2004-2005..

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