MIAMI – This is not what the Heat expected after four games:
A defensive rating of 107.1, 22nd in the league.
Allowing 108.5 points per game, 19th in the league.
Not after both of those numbers were fifth best last season and Miami brought back virtually the entire team from 2016-17.
“We just need to get just a little bit more acquainted with each other,” James Johnson said following Miami’s 117-100 loss to the Spurs on Wednesday.
“Maybe a little bit more talking, a little bit more eye to communication. The Spurs are a great team and they taught us a lot about ourselves.”
Yes, training camp was shortened this year, but shouldn’t three weeks of preseason and one week of the regular season be enough for that ‘getting-to-know-you’ period? Especially for a team returning 11 players from last season’s roster?
And just when the Heat appeared to be improving defensively holding the Hawks to 93 points Monday, along come the Spurs, who shoot 55.3 percent while rolling out a 1980s style front line of LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol.
How bad was the defense? Consider last season the Heat allowed an opponent to shoot better than 55.3 percent once. … and just barely. Cleveland made 55.4 percent of its shots on Dec. 9. And this was a Heat team that started 11-30.
Plus, that was on the road and Miami had eight available players that game. This was at home against a team missing its best player in Kawhi Leonard and veteran point guard Tony Parker.
But it wasn’t just the paint where the Heat’s defense shriveled. While big men Aldridge and Gasol were shooting 17-of-28, perimeter players Rudy Gay and Manu Ginobili were coming off the bench to shoot 12-of-12.
“They set the tempo of the game,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Post-ups, getting paint catches, pick-and-rolls. We just gave up a ton of easy ones and now they are in their rhythm and then you have to react. Then Rudy Gay started to get going as well and their 3-poiint shooters took over from there.
“We didn’t get a handle on our defense for basically the entire game.”
Johnson, who at 6-foot-8 has started at power forward the last three games, called it a “learning experience” for the Heat’s big men.
“Aldridge is a great player, probably one of the best down on the block and (Wednesday) he gave it to us,” Johnson said. “More showing us where we were at as big men. Letting us know the techniques we really need to play with on a daily basis and practice on a daily basis. He gave us everything tonight and I took a lot of that.”
Perhaps the better way to put it is learning how to play against a bigger team without Hassan Whiteside, because for anybody who believes the Heat do not miss their 7-foot-last-line-of-defense center when he’s out, this was exhibit A.
Sure, Miami can get away with not having Whiteside against Indiana and Atlanta – two teams expected to be on the lower half of the weak East – but against playoff teams, Whiteside needs to be on the court.
Whiteside has missed three games with a bruised bone in his left knee and is it not known if he will return for Saturday’s game against the Celtics.
“We need to learn,” guard Goran Dragic said. “We need to regroup, watch the tape and see what kind of mistakes we did. Of course, it was a different team out there than we used to play. They have a really good post-man. Big. He was scoring at will. But, we need to find a way to play better defense as a team. It’s not only individuals. Everybody needs to help each other.”