It seems Miami may be destined to sit at six games under .500 all season.
Miami suffered a disappointing defeat at the hands of the Detroit Pistons, a team that is also jostling for playoff positioning in a crowded lower rung of the Eastern Conference. Miami fell to the 8th seed of the East with the loss, falling into a tie with Charlotte but so far trailing in the season series 2-1.
Miami actually started decently, with Bosh making his first three shots and Hassan Whiteside having an early impact on both ends, but after a bad second foul by Whiteside (he fell for a pump fake on the perimeter), Miami's offense completely fell apart. Miami would go the last seven minutes of the 1st quarter without a basket and only one free throw from Tyler Johnson, giving up a 25-1 run in the process.
From then on, Miami did ramp things up offensively, getting within eight in the 2nd quarter, but the Pistons had enough answers on the perimeter and inside and would lead by 14 at halftime.
Miami's fight was pretty much gone as Detroit got open jumpers to start the 3rd quarter. The lead ballooned to 20 and Detroit never looked back. The sole bright spot was that Chris Bosh erupted in the 3rd quarter, making his first nine shots and scoring 21 in the quarter. The fact that Bosh erupted the way he did and Miami trailed by more than they did at halftime tells you all you need to know about the supporting cast.
What's painfully evident is Miami simply lacks shotmakers at this stage. Bosh has been forcing perimeter shots for a few weeks and ended up 34 points tonight, but beyond him, there is no one on the roster who's a threat to make an open three pointer or a simple jumper off of a screen (outside of maybe Deng. More on him later). Opposing defenses force the ball into hands of lesser shooters, and their hoists are sometimes as good as turnovers, clanking off the rim and triggering fast breaks for the opponent.
What exacerbated tonight was that Miami's guards had no interest in containing D.J. Augustin on the break. He finished with a sterling line of 25 points, 13 assists, and no turnovers, doing much of his damage off Miami misses by pushing the pace and facing little resistance until he got to the rim. Miami's defense, which was tops in the league in January in points allowed (thanks to Whiteside and a snail-like pace more so than team cohesion), were a step slow all night, giving up putbacks and losing players off backdoor cuts.
Miami's 6-14 from downtown looks nice until you realize three came from Bosh and the other three came late in the 4th quarter when Miami had all but waved the white flag. A team like Miami that emphasized three-point shooting so much in the past has to be kicking themselves for not signing more reliable shooters, instead opting for Danny Granger, who hasn't been good from the perimeter since his injury, and Shawne Williams, a player who's been a below average shooter every season of his career other than one flash-in-the-pan year with Mike D'Antoni's Knicks. Granger did have 10 points tonight, but all of it was scored in the 4th quarter when the game was already decided.
The point guards continue to be an absolute calamity. The team has opted to start two point guards in order to get shot creation with Dwyane Wade out, but neither Napier or Norris Cole can score at an NBA level and both lack the IQ to make mid-level passes or jumpers (or anything) off of the pick & roll. With Napier, you hold out hope that he may develop in the future, but Cole is simply getting worse as the season goes along with his scoring, and yet he's clearly a better option than Napier, who looks like a boy among men (Cole had 8 assists, many off of Bosh's 3rd quarter eruption).
Mario Chalmers is as capable of scoring 20 one night as he is scoring two, with a bizarre lack of aggression on many nights where Miami needs his drive-and-kick game. He's been simply invisible on many nights and tonight was no exception. He scored one point and had five assists in 28 minutes. He only attempted two shots. Miami's point guards went 1-7 from the field (Napier did not even shoot in 15 minutes) for three combined points.
Luol Deng returned, and played decently, but he's being asked to do far too much when Miami needs him to be a number 2 scoring option. While he's shooting a solid 37% from three & nearly 50% from the floor, he's not a high volume shooter in general and can't be expected to pick up the slack from the guards and wings. Deng had 10 points and 5 rebounds.
As for Hassanity, Whiteside put up another solid stat line, but played one of his poorer games, which says plenty about him. Whiteside had 11 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots, but shot just 5-12 and may have been a tad trigger happy with his jump shot. After his two early fouls in the first quarter, he only had one the rest of the way, which is a good sign.
For Detroit, they got good minutes from their entire starting five. All five Pistons starters scored at least 12 points and they also got 28 off of their bench from a variety of players. It's fair to say Andre Drummond dueled Whiteside to a standstill as he had 14 points, 14 rebounds, and 2 blocks, a line similar to Hassan's.
Even with the eventual return of Dwyane Wade (and who knows how long he holds up this time when he is back), Miami's guard play is going to cost them a playoff spot at some point. Teams worse than Miami have a treasure trove of depth in comparison (tomorrow's opponent Minnesota features 52 point scorer Mo Williams). It's unclear if Miami's looking to make a move to shore up depth. What little rumblings have been heard in the past proved to be moot.
Miami takes on Minnesota tomorrow. Tipoff is set for 8:00 PM.