In matchup of reshuffled lineups, Heat come up short against steady Hawks
MIAMI -- Both the Miami Heat and the Atlanta Hawks featured new-look starting lineups in their clash Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Hawks did it by choice, preferring to rest several key players on the second night of a back-to-back. The Heat were forced to by necessity.
With Chris Andersen out because of illness, head coach Erik Spoelstra put Udonis Haslem back to his more familiar role off the bench and replaced him in the starting lineup with Henry Walker, who is nearing the end of his 10-day contract.
Newcomers Goran Dragic and Michael Beasley also played heavy minutes with up-and-down production, and it was little wonder that Miami had little chance to keep up with the NBA's most steady team in a 93-91 loss.
Right out of the gate, the Heat made just one shot on five attempts and committed four turnovers in the first 3:30. By then, they were already down 10-2 and trying to dig out of a hole.
"We made a lot of mistakes, and then we started to press," head coach Erik Spoelstra said. "The turnovers really, really made it tough on us. We couldn't get a clean possession."
Miami closed the first quarter with more turnovers (seven) than field goals (five) and just 12 points. Dragic, Deng and Mario Chalmers combined to shoot 0-for-8 from the field, with Walker the only Heat player with more than a single made field goal. The second quarter wasn't much better, with just three assists on seven field goals along with seven more turnovers. They committed a season-high 23 turnovers for the game.
Against any other team in the NBA, the Heat would have had a tough time grinding out the win. But against the Hawks, who have been a model of consistency this season, it only made the task at hand that much more difficult.
"We got some shots, but they didn't go down," said Dwyane Wade, who led his team with 22 points on 9-of-17 shooting. "In stretches like this, where the ball is not going down, the defense is what is going to allow you to be in the game. I thought our defense held good. The offense wasn't there early. It picked up a little in the fourth. It's tough losing games period, but we're going to keep fighting."
To their credit, the Heat did just that. They fought and clawed their way back into the game in the third quarter but time and again, the Hawks responded in their own way. Despite a different rotation, everybody participated within their highly-successful system without letting the ball stick too long to any individual player.
Despite Miami scoring 38 points in the fourth quarter -- their highest-scoring quarter this season -- it still wasn't enough to take their first lead of the game. Whether it was an unfortunate turnover or a blown defensive assignment allowing them to score easily, Atlanta kept answering to win their fifth straight game against Miami.
"We just have to continue to work to get better," Spoelstra said. "If that means we're getting better in games, so be it. That's what it has to be right now because of the schedule. We're not making excuses for our continuity. You have to trust the game."
Each loss stings for the Heat, likely more and more with each passing game. But Wade said they will keep fighting until there's nothing left to fight for.
"The only thing we can do is keep showing up every day and keep trying to fight," he said. "Hopefully something turns in your favor at some point. It's going to be ugly. We have to find a way to win ugly if we want to be in the playoffs. We have to keep trying to find a way no matter who is in the lineup and who is out of the lineup."