If there's one you thing you can be sure of after watching tonight's 104-102 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, it's that Dwyane Wade is definitely struggling.
Wade was, unfortunately, the difference for Miami, logging just 11 points on 4-of-16 shooting. In the last minutes of the game, he nearly turned the ball over and missed the potential game-winner over former teammate Norris Cole. Moreover, he just looked tired and lacked the energy he had earlier this season before injuries began to pile up.
With Wade obviously limited, the brunt of the scoring fell upon new acquisition Goran Dragic, who continues to look very impressive. In the first half of the game, Dragic scored 14 points - all on layups - and his ability to finish at the rim is certainly an asset. He finished the game with 20 points and 5 assists.
As expected, Michael Beasley played in his first game with the Heat this season, after just being signed to a 10-day contract. Also as expected, The Beasley Experience was in full effect, as witnessed within seconds of entering the game, both on offense...
...and on defense...
Beasley would wind up with seven points in 10 minutes, as efficient a scorer as ever.
But despite those defensive struggles, Miami's offense seemed to be clicking in the first half, finishing tied at 54 with the Pelicans. Both teams shot well (over 50 percent) and it had all the makings of a tightly-contested game until Hassan Whiteside erupted in the third quarter. He was suddenly energized - blocking shots, rebounding in traffic and displaying incredible footwork as he scored his smooth jump hook over New Orleans' Omer Asik. Whiteside's stat line was as impressive as ever - 16 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks - despite often being held in the paint (our outright fouled) by Asik.
When Asik went to the bench, Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca would take over and responded with a career-high 24 points. He was huge throughout the game, and Heat reserve Chris Andersen had no way to contain him. Ajinca's production in the middle freed up the floor for Eric Gordon, finally back from years of injury. Gordon's 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range was a back-breaker and kept the Pelicans in the game as Miami's lead swelled in the second half.
Eventually, Miami's offense seemed to stall outright - whether it was due to the Pelicans' improved defense, Miami's ineffective lineup or both is anyone's guess.
As both teams traded leads down the stretch, Whiteside put Miami on top 102-100 with just over a minute left to play. But Ajinca soon tied the game and, following Wade's near turnover, scored the game-winning bucket with 25 seconds left to play. On the next possession, Wade and Whiteside ran their pick-and-roll to perfection and the big man rolled to the hoop with a great chance to tie the game. Asik, however, blocked the shot and then made a bad pass to Gordon who watched as the ball dribbled out of bounds with just 14 seconds left.
The ball was inbounded to Wade who was isolated with Cole on him as the clock wound down. At the last second, Wade put up a 3-point attempt that hit rim, caromed off and sealed another Heat loss.
Luol Deng played very well for Miami tonight, leading the team with 22 points. It's clear that the addition of Dragic has benefited him the most, and he looks worlds better than he did last season. Henry Walker could also be the real deal for Miami this season, adding 16 points (on 6-of-13 shooting, and 4-of-9 from 3-point range) along with 3 rebounds.
Still, with Whiteside, Deng, Dragic and Walker leading the team in scoring, it brings up how much this team has changed. Of the 54 first-half points scored by the Heat, a whopping 35 were from players who weren't on the roster at the start of the season; 44 of the team's first 46 points were scored by players who weren't here last season.
With Chris Bosh out for the season and Wade still trying to find his way, the team will continue to have nights like this - great potential mixed with a lack of cohesion.
Worse yet, there's no time to wallow as Miami returns to the friendly confines of AmericanAirlines Arena to take on the Atlanta Hawks who, at 46-12, lead the Eastern Conference and could very well be the Heat's opponent in the first round of the playoffs.
Still, the postseason, much like last season, seems like an eternity away.