After the Miami Heat were able to avenge for road losses against the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies with blowout victories, the Oklahoma City Thunder ended up getting their revenge on the Heat after losing to them at home (courtesy of an Eddie House three-point dagger).
After another loss to a quality team in a disappointing home-stand that ended 3-3, the Heat can at the very least look forward in the schedule and see a nice long list of lesser teams once they get past the Denver Nuggets game in Miami on Saturday.
There were some bright spots for the Heat as Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade continued to be aggressive and attack the basket instead of settling for difficult jumpers. Jamaal Magloire has been surprisingly decent when he's called upon. Joel Anthony actually grabbed an offensive rebound and dunked it immediately. There were plenty of entertaining dunks in the first half.
They played so well during their 3-game winning streak that people were ready to pounce on it as the moment when the Heat would turn a corner and become a dominant team again. On the other hand, one loss to a quality opponent doesn't mean the Heat are rife with problems.
Having said that, Mike Miller continues to hurt the team with his reluctance to shoot and his inability to knock down open shots when the Heat need it most. He was signed to a nice contract in order to be that glue guy for the team with his all-around skills. The hustle is there but if the Big 3 struggle as they did in the second half then it's impossible for them to hold a lead or make a run to get back into a game if there isn't a reliable marksman off the bench to shoulder the load. Eddie House and James Jones could be that guy but they're not getting minutes. Mike Bibby has shown potential but has just joined the team so I can understand that he's still figuring out his role with the team (though he played too many minutes in the fourth quarter at the expense of Mario Chalmers). It's been enough time for Miller to figure out his role by now, regardless of how much time he missed earlier this season.
Another big problem last night was the failure to secure defensive rebounds and as a result gave up 24 second-chance points, an unacceptable amount. With a nice collection of bigs now augmented by Kendrick Perkins, the Heat were killed on the glass. After seeing Udonis Haslem back on the practice floor, I'm reminded of how much his presence is needed for the Heat in the playoffs (Tom Haberstroh at the Heat Index expertly expands on this). Joel Anthony continues to do more harm than good by attempting to block every single shot in his range and as a result can't block out to secure a rebound for himself or his teammates.
Despite all of that (and compounded by the Big 3's collective struggles) and the Heat were nevertheless within striking range with a little more than three minutes left in the game of a Thunder lead that spanned the entire second half. With momentum on their side, Wade was clearly fouled from behind by Serge Ibaka as he attempted a layup on a fastbreak opportunity but somehow the refs don't see it. Instead of the lead dropping to 5, James Harden then proceeds to knock down a three-pointer as Wade and Erik Spoelstra get called for technical fouls. I'd say more about the refs but I don't want to get sued. The game was essentially over with the 11 point lead.
Even with the lighter schedule, it will be very difficult for the Heat to catch the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics for the first or second spot in the standings. They have no one but themselves to blame for that, as they've had golden opportunities to win several games this season that would have padded their record. This game wasn't a complete failure in terms of execution. The Thunder played solid defense and hit some unbelievable shots down the stretch (mostly courtesy of Durant) that can't be simply blamed on the Heat's defense. Sometimes great players simply make great shots.
But once again, the Heat's three stars couldn't do the same for their team. Any problems the team exhibited the course of the game would have been swept under the rug if they made just a few more shots down the stretch, a timely defensive stop, a loose ball here, an offensive rebound there. Now the reality is that if the Heat want to reach their goals in the postseason it will likely have to happen on the road. Judging by their up-and-down play in the American Airlines Arena, that might not be a bad thing.