For Heat, season’s worst trends rear ugly head in loss to Thunder

MIAMI — Midway through the season, it’s becoming apparent that three constants are sticking around for the Miami Heat for the long haul despite their best efforts: injuries, struggles at home and uninspired play in the second half of games.

Their disappointing 94-86 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday that slipped away from their grasp in crunch time featured all three.

The Heat’s 13th defeat in 20 games at the AmericanAirlines Arena will go down as a lost opportunity to secure a solid win against a more talented team, but the losses have come against teams as bad as the Philadelphia 76ers.

Time and again, the Heat keep finding different ways to lose at home, and it’s costing them in the standings.

"Whatever it is, we just have to find a way to overcome it," head coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Our time is coming, but we have to get over this hurdle here at home. We played hard enough for most stretches of the game. We just were not sharp, particularly on the offensive end.

"It was rough offensively most of the night. We couldn’t get into the offense. We really had to slim our package down to limit the amount of passes we were making and that’s a tough thing to do against a good team like this."

The lack of focus and effort killed them at the start, when the Thunder kept picking off lazy and sloppy passes, leading to four consecutive turnovers that erased their hot start. Miami would close with nine turnovers in the first quarter and 19 for the game. They have committed at least 19 turnovers in three of their past four games, with an average of 17.3 over that span.

"They have so many different ways that they can force you into turnovers," said Chris Bosh, who finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and four turnovers but only had one field goal in the second half. "We weren’t loose with the ball, but we weren’t taking care of the basketball. They played their game."

Heat vs. Thunder

Turnovers from bad passes weren’t the only culprit here. They also got beat in other categories that showed a lack of hustle and effort. The Thunder had 19 second chance points compared to just six for the Heat. The turnovers also led to a 14-7 advantage on fast breaks.

"Well the box score pretty much sums it up if you look at the column of empty possessions," Spoelstra said. "That kills you against a team like this and most of those possessions led to either scores or worse — pick sixes. To leave a really competitive defensive game like that on the table is disappointing for all of us."

With each lost possession, the Thunder took full advantage to put up easy buckets and stay within striking distance when they were behind early and to put distance between the two teams when holding on to their lead in the second half. The Heat would only manage 17 and 19 points in the third and fourth quarters, respectively, and shot 40 percent from the field in the second half after closing with 54.5 percent at halftime.

"Our defense sparked a lot of our offense," Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said. "It gave us some extra opportunities to get on the break, get to the line and get some fast-break points."

No sooner did the Heat get Dwayne Wade back from his two-game absence to rest his hamstring, they lost center Hassan Whiteside after he sprained his ankle in the second quarter. Injuries have affected many NBA teams this season — including the Thunder — but the Heat’s bad luck with injuries has no ending in sight midway through the season.

"You have to be able to play through that," Spoelstra said. "That’s the story of our season. You have to find a way to overcome it. Sometimes we do. Hassan being out had nothing to do with turnovers and our empty possessions and not be able to get into our offense cleanly."

You can follow Surya Fernandez on Twitter @SuryaHeatNBA or email him at SuryaFoxSports@gmail.com.