Heat defense again falters, lose to Hawks 121-114

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The defending champs again put it in a puzzling effort on the defensive end to finish their road trip on a disappointing note.

The Miami Heat ended their six-game road trip with another poor effort on defense, allowing the Atlanta Hawks to score at will to beat the defending champs 121-114.

Dwyane Wade again sat out for a second straight game and even with LeBron James scoring 30 points and Chris Bosh contributing 21 points the team couldn't outscore the Hawks, a necessity given the porous defense. The halftime score of 71-70 represented only the second time in Heat franchise history both teams scored more than 70 each in a half, according to Sun Sports. Simply put, this is not Heat championship - caliber defense or anything close to it through large stretches of the season...and not anything this franchise has been known for lately.

"We scored enough points to win, so obviously it was defense," James said after the game. "Especially in the first half."

The Hawks ended their nine-game losing streak against the defending champs led by Paul Millsap, who was unstoppable in the first half and finished with 26 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. But this was definitely a team effort. Their starting center Pero Antic, in place of the injured Al Horford, struggled with foul trouble but still collected 17 points and 6 rebounds in just 25 minutes. Bosh and Udonis Haslem could only watch as DeMarre Carroll (17 points) impressed with his athleticism and defense, while also showing some range on offense shooting 3-5 beyond the arc.

Without Wade, the Heat really needed starter Ray Allen to get back on track and his perfect shooting from the field, hitting four of his five shots from 3-point territory, was the primary reason the Heat were able to get back into the game with the Hawks racing out to a double-digit lead in the first half.

LeBron didn't score until five minutes left in the first quarter but the Heat's 11-3 run helped them take a 21-20 lead, their first of the game. The Hawks kept spreading the floor with their shooters and with three or four passes were able to secure a good look at the basket, or a great opportunity for Millsap or Antic inside.

The second half didn't feature quite as much offense from either team, but after the Heat had scored an astounding 39 points in the second quarter, they put up just 44 points in the second half. With Kyle Korver hitting well-timed treys and even an effective stint off the bench from Elton Brand were enough for the Hawks to always answer the call when the Heat threatened to take the lead and mount a comeback.

The Heat wrapped up their road trip going 2-4, with an average of 110 points scored by the opponent in those four losses. HHH writer Isaac Koppel points out that the Heat's record last season through 40 games was 28-12 while this season it's 29-11. But the defense is what will keep Erik Spoelstra sleepless until the team, consisting of basically the same players as last year's squad, gets its act together on that side of the floor.

The Heat can't be expected to play perfectly all the time but all too often lately the team has had to play catch up after slow starts and perfection is needed in the second half and down the stretch, usually from LeBron, to close out games.

Thankfully, the team must quickly return home and put the road trip behind them with a return to the AA Arena to face Rajon Rondo and the Boston Celtics.

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