The Miami Heat lost a disappointing game on Wednesday to the Indiana Pacers but looked to rebound against the Atlanta Hawks, their Southwest division rival.
Instead, the same weaknesses reared their ugly head and Miami never held the lead in Friday's 114-103 defeat.
The Heat were without Dwyane Wade, who was suffering from a sprained hamstring he sustained against Indiana. Rookie James Ennis started in his place but was largely ineffective, contributing just one point in six minutes. Miami looked shaky defensively to start the game, down 15-3 with eight minutes left in the first quarter. The Hawks Al Horford created mismatches early on spread the defense with his outside shooting; he finished with 19 points on 8-10 shooting.
The Heat were able to claw their way back, mostly due to Shawne Williams and Mario Chalmers. Williams continued his surprising string of hot shooting with 21 points (8-of-11 from the field, including 5-of-6 3-pointers). Chalmers, off the bench, was aggressive in attacking the basket, adding 23 points to lead all scorers for Miami. The Heat cut the lead down to 4 as the half drew to a close but Atlanta was able to extend the lead to 9 with a 7-2 run.
It was a trend that would continue in the second half, as Miami would stay close but never overtake a hot-shooting Atlanta team that finished with field-goal percentage of 56 percent. Their scoring was evenly distributed with eight Hawks players finishing with double-digit points. Kyle Korver (12 points), Shelvin Mack (12 points) and noted Heat-nemesis Paul Millsap (19 points) were deadly from outside.
The Heat were able to get some contributions from Chris Bosh and Luol Deng (20 and 19 points respectively) but it was erratic; they finished a combined 12-of-31 from the field. Frustration mounted late in the game as Chalmers, Williams and Udonis Haslem each picked up technical fouls.
Head coach Erik Spoelstra was visibly aggravated during the game, as his players simply couldn't defend Atlanta effectively. Comments by him and Bosh after the game confirmed this (from Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick, via Twitter):
Spoelstra: "We really didn't make a stand defensively."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) November 15, 2014
Chris Bosh: "We're not getting off to good starts defensively. They're blowing by us."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) November 15, 2014
Miami lost the rebounding battle (36 to 32 total boards) and Atlanta's ball movement mirrored the Heat's passing proficiency earlier this season (33 assists on 42 made field goals). The absence of Wade and his ability to facilitate the offense and move the ball was clearly felt on Friday night.
The Heat don't have much time to feel sorry for themselves, when they return home to face the young Milwaukee Bucks and rookie-of-the-year candidate Jabari Parker on Sunday before going to Brooklyn to take on the Nets on Monday.