PHILADELPHIA — Wayne Ellington has earned a lot of respect from around the league this season.
Ellington entered Friday ranked fifth in the league in 3-pointers made this season with 153. With two months remaining in the regular season, he’s already surpassed his career single-season high for made three-pointers, which was 149 from last year.
CLEVELAND — The Heat were so close to the third-best record in the Eastern Conference.
How close? Miami trailed 91-89 with the ball and 4.7 seconds to play.
But the Heat (29-22) couldn’t close the deal as James Johnson ran out of time in an effort to get down the court for a game-tying layup. All-Star forward LeBron James made Johnson hesitate long enough near the basket to have the time expire on Miami’s hopes of stealing a win.
The result was a 91-89 Heat loss to the Cavaliers (30-20) on Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena. The loss dropped Miami to 1.5 games behind Cleveland for third-place in the East.
“I was going downhill against [James],” Johnson said of the final play. “I liked what I was doing. The only thing is he’s LeBron and he made a great read, and his defense prevailed that time. You got to take it for what it is. Tomorrow I’ll probably be doing 100 transition drills.”
The Heat’s offense struggled, shooting 3-of-28 from 3-point range and committing 20 turnovers. Not even quality defense that limited the Cavaliers to 35 percent shooting was enough to overcome Miami’s subpar offense.
“I mean that’s why we really wanted to get this game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This would have been such a great game to win when you play horribly offensively. Whatever it was, 3 for 28, that’s not going to happen every night. But then you still have a chance to win. Again, we’re starting to build some competitive character, to be there at the end, shooting what we did from the 3-point line, the free-throw line and then the turnovers on top of that. These are those really gratifying wins if you can find a way. But we didn’t.”
Goran Dragic led the Heat with a team-high 18 points, but even he was inefficient. Dragic made just 7 of his 17 shots.
As expected, LeBron James was Cleveland’s catalyst with 24 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
Here are our five takeaways …
Elite defense not enough: The Heat’s defense has been trending in the right direction for a few weeks. But on Wednesday, it was elite. Miami limited Cleveland to 91 points on 35 percent shooting and forced the Cavaliers into 16 turnovers. But not even that was enough to overcome a poor offensive performance, as the Heat shot 3-of-28 from 3-point range and made just 14-of-25 free throws while committing 20 turnovers. Still, holding down the Cavaliers’ offense is an accomplishment. Cleveland entered with the league’s fourth-best offensive rating. Quality defense is starting to become a trend for Miami, as it entered Wednesday with the league’s second-best defensive rating since Jan. 20.
“I mean there are a lot of things that I really liked about our team tonight,” Spoelstra said. “We did not play well, at all, offensively. It was probably one of our poorer games on that side of the floor in a while, in weeks maybe. We missed some open ones, but also missed free throws, 20 turnovers. Just very inefficient. It was pretty surprising that we still had a chance there at the end, but our defense really stepped up.”
Heat aren’t the third seed, for now: The Heat had a chance to capture sole possession of the third-best record in the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, but they couldn’t take advantage. Instead, Miami is now 1.5 games behind No. 3 Cleveland. And the Heat’s grip on the fourth seed is loosening as the Wizards are just one-half game behind them. Miami has two games remaining on its four-game trip, on Friday against the 76ers and Saturday against the Pistons.
“In two days is the next one against an opponent [the 76ers] that’s right there behind us,” Dragic said. “We just need to get better. We feel like we’re on the right track. We’re playing hard.”
Starting lineup watch: The Heat’s starting lineup of Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Goran Dragic have had more bad games together than good ones. This five-man group entered with the third-worst plus-minus on the team among five-man lineups at minus-24 in 71 minutes this season. The lineup was a plus-one in 13 minutes against the Cavaliers. Spoelstra did not go to this lineup in crunch time, as he decided to play Kelly Olynyk instead of Whiteside at center down the stretch. Spoelstra has said he’s going to stick with this group for now, but things are clearly fluid when it comes to the Heat’s current starting five.
Dwyane Wade watch: Before Wednesday’s game, Dwyane Wade said he still wants to end his NBA career with the Heat. During the game, Wade struggled against his former team. He finished with nine points on 2-of-8 shooting. Wade is now averaging 16.4 in five games against the Heat since he left Miami in the summer of 2016, and he holds a 4-1 record against his old squad. Now, whether he ends up finishing his career with the Heat? We’ll see. Wade will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He’s currently in the middle of a one-year, $2.3 million veteran’s minimum contract he signed to play for the Cavaliers.
Free-throw struggles: In a game that included 63 free throws, Miami struggled to make most of its shots from the charity stripe. The Heat shot 14-of-25 from the free-throw line, a statistic that obviously played a big part in their loss. On the other side, the Cavaliers shot 29-of-38 on free throws. The game was decided by just two points and Miami gave up 11 points at the line. It’s not fair to blame free-throw shooting as the lone reason for the Heat’s loss, but it’s definitely one of the biggest reasons.
CLEVELAND — Even in his second season away from Miami, nothing has changed. Dwyane Wade still wants to end his NBA career with the Heat.
“I have thought about it, of course,” Wade said before Wednesday’s game between the Heat and Cavaliers. “I wouldn’t lie and say I haven’t. When that opportunity comes, that day comes, hopefully, I can go out in a Miami Heat jersey. I don’t know how it will be, but I would love it.”
Does Wade, 36, envision that as a ceremonial one-day contract or does he actually want to play again in a Heat jersey?
“I don’t know,” Wade said. “For me, I’m at the point where you get this high up in years played in the NBA, you kind of take the summer to think about what you want as a player and go from there. For me, the arena that I walked in to play, I would like to leave in. How it’s done, I don’t know. I can’t predict the future. If it’s a Paul Pierce situation or just playing, I don’t know. But I definitely would like to walk out the same way I came in.”
Wade will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He’s currently in the middle of a one-year, $2.3 million veteran’s minimum contract he signed to play for the Cavaliers.
As Wade watches from afar, nothing the Heat have done this season has surprised him. Miami entered Wednesday with the Eastern Conference’s fourth-best record despite not having an All-Star on the roster.
“It’s the Miami Heat,” Wade said. “Last year, they were trying to find themselves early in the season and they did later. They found their identity. Everyone on the team that came there understood what it was going to take to win in that environment, in that culture. And they continued it throughout the year. … This team plays hard. They’re consistent with their game for the most part. That’s going to get them a lot of wins. I’m impressed with the guys, J-Rich and taking that step to the next level. Tyler, playing amazing. I’m happy for those guys. But I expect it. I expect those guys to play the way they are.”
And Wade believes Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is finally getting the recognition he deserves.
“He never gets the credit. I’m not saying he’s looking for it. He didn’t get credit when we were winning championships and going to Finals,” Wade said. “It’s not easy to have success in this league. Last year, everyone thought he should have been Coach of the Year for what he was able to do. For what they’re doing this year, he’s right back up there in that conversation. He’s a great coach. He’s one of the best in our game. Those players who play there one day will be happy to know they were coached by a great coach.”
In his first season with the Cavaliers, Wade entered Wednesday averaging 11.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists this season.
“I smile just as much as anybody in here,” Wade said when asked if he’s enjoying his first season in Cleveland. “‘I’m enjoying the game. Team success is obviously the ultimate thing. But throughout the year, you have to find a joy. You can’t let losses and all these things really take your joy away from playing. I can’t play this game forever, so I’m definitely just enjoying the process. I’m enjoying being in the locker room with these veteran guys. Losses, going on a losing streak sucks like any team. But I definitely enjoy it.”
TV/Radio: Fox Sports Sun, NBA TV/WAXY 790AM, WAQI 710AM (Spanish)
Records: Miami 10-9, Cleveland 13-7
Line: Cavaliers favored by 4 points
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS
F: Josh Richardson
F: Justise Winslow
C: Hassan Whiteside
G: Dion Waiters
G: Goran Dragic
F: LeBron James
F: Jae Crowder
C: Kevin Love
G: J.R. Smith
G: Jose Calderon
Scouting report: The Heat are still without swingman Rodney McGruder (left tibia surgery) and forward Okaro White (left foot surgery). … The Cavaliers will be without Derrick Rose (left ankle sprain), Isaiah Thomas (right hip), and Tristan Thompson (left calf strain). … Cleveland has won eight straight games since starting the season with a 5-7 record. … The Cavaliers will take on the Heat for their first back-to-back situation since Oct. 28-29. Cleveland defeated the 76ers 113-91 in Philadelphia on Monday night. … Cavaliers forward LeBron James has been dominant this season, averaging 28.6 points on 57.8 percent shooting from the field to go with 8.1 rebounds and 8.5 assists. … Former Heat star Dwyane Wade is averaging 10.4 points on 42.3 percent shooting in a bench role for Cleveland this season. … Miami has won three straight after starting the season with a 7-9 record. The Heat have posted the league’s fifth-best defensive rating during their short win streak, allowing 97.2 points per 100 possessions. … The Heat have connected on 162 3-point field goals this month, already the most during the month of November in team history. Miami is also just 12 short of tying the most 3-pointers made in any month in franchise history, which came when the Heat hit 174 threes in March 2017. … Heat point guard Goran Dragic was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 23.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists in three games last week. He shot 52.4 percent, including 57.9 percent on 3-pointers. … Among the 179 players defending eight or more shots per game this season, Heat small forward Josh Richardson is statistically the top one. Richardson is limiting the player he’s guarding to a league-best 33.0 percent shooting, which is 11.8 percent worse than their normal shooting percentage.
When not debating over who is peanut butter and who is jelly during a recent ESPN interview (yes, that actually happened), Dwyane Wade and LeBron James talked about how the disappointment of losing in their first Finals together as teammates in Miami strengthened their relationship.
Wade and James, who are reunited in Cleveland and will play in their first regular season game as teammates tonight against the Celtics since their days with the Heat, said after losing to Dallas in the 2011 Finals they vacationed together for the first time in the Bahamas and sat around “depressed,” and feeling “vulnerable.’
The trip brought them closer and what followed were three more Finals appearances and two titles, a period that, four seasons later, the two are rekindling.
Wade, 35, and James, 32, recently admitted Cleveland, with its versatility and interchangeable parts, is starting to resemble those Miami teams that Pat Riley assembled. That will be more evident with coach Tyronn Lue’s decision to start Kevin Love at center.
“We definitely see it here,” Wade told reporters covering the Cavs. “You see the ability to have Kevin Love start at the five, Jae (Crowder) start at the four. When LeBron’s on the court. … he starts at the three but he’s the same height as the four and five on the other team.”
Those Heat lineups had that versatility because of Chris Bosh’s ability to play center or power forward, James facilitating offense from one of those forward spots and a bench with “positionless’ players.
Wade said that versatility will allow the Cavs to apply some of those same Heat principals on defense, too.
“How aggressive (Bosh) was and then his ability to switch on guards, which a lot of people didn’t give him credit for. … He was an unbelievable defender,” Wade said. “But when he switched on point guards he was a great defender as well. Udonis Haslem was the same way. So yeah, definitely having kind of a similar ability on the defensive end.”
Lue told cleveland.com that he has watched film of the Heat from the Big Three era, starting even before Wade signed on this summer. But now he has even more reasons.
“I’m looking into it,” Lue said. “I just want to keep offense as condensed as possible. Won’t be a lot of thinking, a lot more playing with movement and ball movement. Try not to add too much stuff, just keep the four sets we’ve got, keep adding on those sets and go from there.”
Said Wade: “So many versatile guys and I think that’s one thing that makes everybody here excited, that you could play multiple positions. Even when we’re going over plays. You could put so many different guys in the sets that I think in the past, it was a little different style.
“So I think it’s a good change for these guys. Obviously you’ve got good shooters, but you’ve got enough slashers, penetrators, guys do other things to kind of make it a complete team.”
BOCA RATON — Dwyane Wade wants to return to the Miami Heat. Whether it’s for one day or one season, Wade wants to end his NBA career in Miami.
“Miami, the door’s always unlocked,” Wade said to Tim Reynolds from the Associated Press. “One day I want to retire in a Miami Heat jersey. I don’t know how that will happen, but I definitely want to make sure that when I decide to hang it up, that jersey is on. Whether it’s being back there or signing a one-day deal like Paul Pierce, I want to make sure that I go out the way I came in.”