Zone defense gets best of Heat in loss

MIAMI – These guys are going to the movies. But there won’t be any popcorn or Jujubes served.

Once again, the Miami Heat had trouble with a zone defense, falling 100-92 to Atlanta on Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. And there’s going be a steady dose of film work before they next play Wednesday against Indiana.

“We’ll have lots of film to discern where we need to get better,” said forward Shane Battier.

Going against a zone often was a struggle for Heat in last spring’s 4-2 NBA Finals loss to Dallas. And Boston last Tuesday, after falling behind by 20 points, used a zone to get back within three points before Miami survived.

But there was no escape Monday. After the Hawks fell behind by 10 points in the second quarter, they went to a zone for much of the rest of the game and slowly took over.

“I think the zone has made us a little passive,” said Heat guard Dwyane Wade.

Wade sure didn’t like how he looked against it. He shot just 4-of-17 for 12 points.

Wade has been bothered by a sore left foot. But he wouldn’t use that as an excuse, saying it was just a “bad game.”

LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the other two card-carrying members of The Big Three, had good games. James scored 28 points and Bosh had 19.

But they didn’t get much help, and the Heat (5-1) finally has a loss this season. With Oklahoma City falling later Monday night, there are no more undefeated teams left in the NBA.

It had looked so easy for the Heat 24 hours earlier, when they crushed Charlotte 129-90 at home. But the Hawks had been resting Sunday night in Miami in preparation for the Heat, who played their third game in four nights.

Miami sure didn’t look fatigued at the start, jumping out to a 37-27 lead midway through the second quarter. But the Hawks then slapped on the zone, discombobulating the Heat.

“Celtics had success, Dallas obviously had the most success because they won a championship playing them,” Atlanta guard Tracy McGrady said of using a zone against the Heat. “So I think teams are just taking a little bit of what they did to them. You can’t play them one on one, I’m sorry. LeBron and D-Wade, I don’t give a darn how good your defense is, you can’t play them one-on-one. So you got to come up with something.”

You might remember McGrady. Guy with a long wingspan who used to show up regularly at All-Star Games if not deep in the playoffs.

Well, McGrady, who has bounced from team to team in recent years and now comes off the bench, turned back the clock Monday. McGrady, 33, scored 13 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter as the Hawks outscored the Heat 33-21.

“It’s been a long time since I had that feeling,” McGrady, who has battled knee problems since 2008, said of a fourth quarter in which he shot 3-of-3 from three-point range. “My legs feel fresh. Everything just feels good… I haven’t felt this way in quite some time, probably since the beginning of my knee injury.”

The Hawks (4-1), who also got 21 points from guard Joe Johnson, all were feeling good. The Heat, not so much.

“We know we’re going to see it,” James said of the zone. “It’s not a surprising thing… We just got to continue to figure out ways that we can exploit it. If we get the ball inside, then outside and we make a couple shots outside, that can help it. But also staying in an attack mode.”

The Heat did get some outside help from Battier, who put up nothing but three-pointers and shot 3-of-4 for 11 points. That was in sharp contrast to the free-agent signee having started the season 1-of-13, including 1-of 10 on three-pointers.

But everybody else on the Heat combined to shoot a meager 2-of-9 from long range. That included Bosh going 0-of-3. The plan is for the big man to shoot more three-pointers this season but that’s not working out too well since he’s now 1-of-6 on the season.

Point guard Mario Chalmers, who is 10-of-14 on the season from beyond the arc, wasn’t in the game for the final 3:24. In fact, no true point guard was, with Miami coach Erik Spoelstra using the 6-foot-8 James in that role while wanting to play bigger.

“I figured they would (go to that lineup) to have an advantage on me being a small player,” said 6-2 Hawks point Jeff Teague. “But I didn’t know why they did it at the end when they needed three-point shooting.”

Whatever tinkering is now needed against the zone, Spoelstra vows to do it. He had promised after the shaky end to the Boston game the Heat would get better against the zone. But it obviously has yet to happen.

“We do need to get better and address it,” Spoelstra said. “(The Hawks) went to the zone, and we got out of our rhythm, and it affected us. What was disappointing is it affected us and our concentration from that point on.”

With that in mind, Spoelstra will be sitting his players down for film. It will be a double or maybe even a triple feature.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson