Sacramento Kings at Miami Heat game preview
MIAMI — The season has not started the way the Miami Heat envisioned.
After a season-opening win over the less-than-mediocre and winless Orlando Magic, the Heat (1-2) have suffered a pair of disappointing losses entering Tuesday’s home game against the Sacramento Kings (2-2).
Miami blew a 19-point, third-quarter lead, losing their home opener to the Charlotte Hornets, and the Heat lost again at home on Sunday night against the San Antonio Spurs.
And while the Spurs are an excellent team, they were playing the second of two games on consecutive nights. They flew in from San Antonio and arrived in Miami at about 3 a.m. Sunday morning, just 15 hours before tip-off.
The Spurs also rested five-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and played without injured starting shooting guard Danny Green … and still had enough to subdue the Heat.
"We have to figure out a way to pull these games out," Heat guard Dion Waiters said, "especially at home."
And that’s the thing: The Heat’s three-game homestand ends Tuesday. It could be a dreadful 0-3 homestand if the Heat’s not careful.
One of the various problems for the Heat during this first year in which they no longer have any of their famed "Big Three" of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is that Miami no longer has a "closer."
James used to be that guy. Wade used to be that guy. And Bosh could be that guy on certain occasions.
Now, they are getting beaten by teams with closers. Such was the case in the loss to Charlotte, which has Kemba Walker, who scored 15 of his 24 points in the second half. Such was the case with San Antonio, which has Kawhi Leonard, who scored the last 12 Spurs points and finished with 27.
Miami needs to develop a closer. The best options are point guard Goran Dragic and center Hassan Whiteside.
But Dragic is still inconsistent and is best suited to star in an up-tempo situation and not the half-court sets that typically arise in end-game scenarios.
Whiteside is often not even in the game at the end, either due to foul trouble, poor free-throw shooting or, as was the case on Sunday, he had leg cramps because he is not used to having to carry a team on his back. He needs to find the energy required to play hard on both ends of the court for a full game.
Unfortunately for the Heat, the Kings have a closer. In fact, they have two in center DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins and small forward Rudy Gay.
Not that everything is so great for the Kings, who lost 106-95 to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.
The Kings haven’t had a winning season in 10 years, they lost the division title by an incredible 40 games to the Golden State Warriors last season and they fired coach George Karl.
New coach Dave Joerger, who took the Memphis Grizzlies to the playoffs in each of the past three years, is working with some interesting players in an attempt to build around Cousins and Gay.
With point guard Rajon Rondo gone in free agency and backup Darrin Collison injured, the Kings signed Ty Lawson, 28, in August. This is Lawson’s third team in the past year, which says a lot about where he’s at in his career.
Arron Afflalo, who signed as a free agent from the New York Knicks, is Sacramento’s starting shooting guard. Kosta Koufas, an eighth-year man, is starting at power forward.
The bench includes Garrett Temple, who started 43 games for the Washington Wizards last season; forward Anthony Tolliver, who is on his ninth NBA team; forward Omri Casspi, who is in his seventh year; and forward Matt Barnes, a fierce defender who is on his 10th NBA team.
"We have older veterans on the team this year," Kings guard Ben McLemore said, "guys who have been to the playoffs."
McLemore, a first-round pick in 2013 (seventh overall), leads the Kings’ young reserves, a group that includes center Willie Cauliy-Stein, a first-rounder last year (sixth overall).
The Kings drafted three more first-round picks this year, although none of them are playing yet.
Is that enough to turn the Kings around in the near future?
We will see. But the Kings, who are on the second of a five-game road trip, don’t have much pressure. This is a franchise that has grown accustomed to losing.
The Heat, on the other hand, became NBA royalty early this decade, and they pride themselves on being in contention no matter the scenario.
Beating the Kings, who will again give Miami a tired opponent since Sacramento played on Monday while the Heat rested, will be a bigger deal than might be expected at this early stage of the season.
But that’s what it’s come to for the Heat, a franchise that has yet to find a closer or an identity for the 2016-2017 season.