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Poor play or bad luck? A look at Miami's closest games this season

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Miami's had some heartbreaking losses this season that may end up costing them a playoff spot.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

With a crippling last second loss to Detroit, Miami finds itself the 9th seed in the Eastern conference and out of the playoff picture. With 42 losses, they have assured themselves a losing record for the first time since the 2007-2008 season that saw the team finish with a franchise-tying worst 15-67 record, but also gain the 2nd overall pick and decent success the next two seasons before they acquired LeBron James went to four straight NBA Finals.

Most will point to injuries (and blood clots) as the reason for this lack of continuity and success and frankly, they are right. No matter how much Miami nobly chooses to avoid using the injury excuse as a crutch, it has robbed them of any semblance of a rotation and hierarchy. I believe a side effect of this has been Miami's startling and baffling losses in close games this season.

I'm going to arbitrarily examine each and every game I can remember to be decided by a last-second (or close to it) shot. I'll use play-by-play to get the exact timing of certain sequences correct.

Nov 23, 2014Heat 94, Charlotte 93: To think Miami started out on a good note in these games. Chris Bosh hit a baseline J to give Miami a one point lead and Al Jefferson's tip of a Kemba Walker shot just missed and Miami hung on. Jefferson's tip would have dropped 99 out of 100 times and Miami was more than fortunate here.

Dec 23, 2014 - Heat 87, 76ers 91: Miami blows a 23-point lead by scoring 30 second half points (9 in the 4th quarter) and Mario Chalmers & Luol Deng both miss three pointers that would've given Miami a one point lead. Philadelphia makes both foul shots and Miami suffers a painful defeat.

Dec 29, 2014 - Heat 101, Magic 102: Miami goes up 101-97 with 1:30 left in the game off of a Danny Granger three then fail to score the rest of the way. Orlando gets their last five points by letting Victor Oladipo isolate on the top of the key, leading to a drive-and-dish to Tobias Harris for two, another layup, and a free throw. Miami's last few possessions would go Wade miss from 12 ft (Deng offensive rebound and miss), Wade miss from 20 ft, and Wade miss from 20 ft.

Jan 21, 2015 - Heat 76, Charlotte 78: The Hornets get revenge for their earlier regular season loss. Miami plays very poorly most of the game, but makes a late 4th quarter push. They go up 74-72 on a Mario Chalmers three with 3:37 left, The teams would trade misses for two minutes until Kemba Walker draws a foul with 1:14 left and ties the game at 74. Chris Bosh then misses a three and Wade commits a costly foul, giving Marvin Williams a free throw and the Hornets a 75-74 lead. Shawne Williams misses an open three with 45 seconds left and Kemba Walker isolates and draws a foul off of a drive, sinking two more free throws. Bosh opts for a quick two point basket and Miami plays the foul game. Kemba Walker splits the pair and Miami is down two with 12 seconds left. Chris Bosh shoots a three that is an airball, but Chalmers manages to rebound it, only to dribble into a contested corner three.

Jan 23, 2015 - Heat 89, Indiana 87: Miami leads almost the entire game, but a 14-point 4th quarter nearly allowed Indiana to steal the game. Miami's up 9 with 3:41 left, but Indiana whittles it down to a single possession game. Mario Chalmers hits a big time floater with 53 seconds left to put Miami up three. Indiana eventually scores a quick two, then plays the foul game. Wade splits the pair and CJ Watson gets a wide open two point shot (he was chased off of the three point line) that he misses. Miami escapes.

February 4th, 2015 - Miami 101, Minnesota 102: Miami holds a 10-point lead midway through the 4th quarter before the offense goes flat. This game is infamous for the Norris Cole inbounds play where he prompted Whiteside to re-inbound the ball to him after it was in play, leading to an out-of-bounds. Miami actually regained their lost lead (they were down by as many as four late) with some timely buckets, specifically a Chris Bosh midrange J that put then up 101-100 with 50 seconds left. However, Kevin Martin answers with a two of his own and Miami settles for a long Norris Cole three that misses the mark.

February 25, 2015 - Miami 93, Orlando 90 (OT): The Henry Walker Game. Perhaps the one game where Miami was truly lucky and pulled out a game with late offense, rather than praying for a miss (though that certainly happened too with some Magic free throw woes). Miami plays catch-up most of the game and despite getting close multiple times, falls behind by 8 with 42 seconds left. Mathematically, Miami should've had no chance. but 10 points from Chalmers, Wade, and Big Shot Walker and his back-to-back threes allow Miami to send it to overtime. Up three with 3.0 seconds left in overtime, Victor Oladipo misses a three and Miami steals one.

February 27, 2015 - Miami 102, New Orleans 104: A pretty competitive 1st half leads into a great 3rd quarter for Miami where they go up by nine leading into the 4th. The Pelicans answer with a quick run and the latter half of the fourth has both teams trading body blows with the game either tied or having a one possession difference. Miami goes up 102-100 off a Hassan Whiteside dunk assisted by Wade. Unfortunately, Miami has no answer for Alexis Ajinca the entire quarter and he scores off a high pick-and-roll with Eric Gordon, tying the game. Henry Walker settles for a deep three that he misses and the Pelicans run the exact same play with Miami still unable to answer. Miami runs the same Hassan/Wade pick and roll, only to be blocked by Omer Asik. Miami gets another chance off a bad Asik pass and Wade settles for a three that he misses. New Orleans wins.

March 6, 2015 - Miami 95, Washington 97: A moral victory if there ever was one. Miami trails by as many as 35(!), but fights their way back with Wade-less and eventually Dragic-less group, making it a one point game with a minute left in the 4th quarter. A Nene miss and turnover gives Miami a chance to go ahead, but Henry Walker misses a three with six seconds left that would've given Miami a two point lead. Miami fouls and Bradley Beal splits the pair of free throws. Down two with one second left, Michael Beasley's shot is too late and off the mark and Miami's historic comeback falls short.

March 7, 2015 - Miami 114, Sacramento 109 (OT): Miami is unable to defend most of this game, falling behind 61-47 by halftime, and remained down by 10 through three quarters. The Kings offense goes totally flat in the 4th quarter, however, and the trio of Dwyane Wade, Tyler Johnson, and Michael Beasley (who played center), give Miami a four point lead with 1:32 left in the game.  DeMarcus Cousins foul shots and an Andre Miller old man move veteran lay-in ties the game Henry Walker misses the go-ahead three and Rudy Gay follows by missing what seemed to be a sure layup as time expired. Miami scores 18 points in overtime and overcomes their poor start.

March 18, 2015 - Miami 108, Portland 104: The game where you felt maybe, just maybe, Miami's luck had turned a corner. Dwyane Wade is magnificent in this game and Miami uses a 60-point 2nd half to overcome a red-hot Portland start. Miami would lead by six late in the 4th quarter, but a combination of timely threes and LaMarcus Aldridge buckets to gives Portland a 104-102 lead with under a minute left. Dwyane Wade answers with four massive points in 40 seconds, the last bucket coming off of a pull up jumper set up by a Whiteside screen over the outstretched arms of Nicolas Batum. A backcourt violation and two more Wade free throws ices the game.

March 24, 2015 - Miami 88, Milwaukee 89: There's no need for me to go into detail with this one still fresh in our minds. Miami scores nine points in the 4th quarter and blows a 16-point fourth quarter lead. They regain the lead off of a Wade basket that's too difficult to describe (a botched play, scrum, and something Wade flipped up for two points. I don't know how he did it). Milwaukee wins following a series of unfortunate events, most notably being a Zaza Pachulia rebound off of a Jerryd Bayless missed layup leading to a wide open Khris Middleton draining an open three as time expires.

April 4, 2015 - Miami 98, Detroit 99: Full recap is here: Cliffnotes version. Miami blows late, huge 4th quarter lead, Wade jumpers do not fall.

Of the 13 games I've gone through, Miami went 5-8. I suppose that's not as bad as even I anticipated, but not a single Miami win featured the miraculous last-second "clutch gene" shot besides the Walker game. It often featured Miami hanging on by the skin of their teeth and/or the opponent doing something foolish late.

I noticed a trend in many of these games in that the big shot often ended in either a Wade isolation jumper or a Henry Walker three. This makes some sense as Wade is the alpha dog with Chris Bosh sidelined. Miami went to Bosh early in the season for big baskets and he mostly delivered, Charlotte notwithstanding. With Walker, he's often the benefactor of penetration as were Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Mike Miller in seasons past, but Walker is statistically not close to these players as a shooter. He, nonetheless, is the only high-volume three point shooter Miami has on the roster right now.

I suppose I'll use my last point to talk more about Dwyane. He's had a great season despite injuries and is 2nd in the NBA in 4th quarter scoring at 7.0 points per game, but despite some moments of vintage Wade (and vintage only in raw production. He plays differently now than he did in his prime), he has empirically not been efficient in clutch moments this year. As Zach Harper of CBS Sports highlights. Wade was 11-34 in clutch situations as of March 26th. Clutch being defined here as:

"...the last two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime and the score within five points in favor or against the shooter. That's how we'll be defining "clutch" in this article. It helps create a divide between successful and unsuccessful shooters this season, some on the same team.

Wade clutch

If we're using Harper's definition, then Wade is currently 11-36 in clutch situations with his two late misses tonight in Detroit and the games in between March 26th and today not being remotely close late in the 4th quarter. The issue as seen in the shot chart is that Wade's opting for long jumpers a large percentage of the time. Naturally the game does slow down in the 4th quarter and isolations from superstars are to be expected to some degree, but the Magic loss on December 29th stuck out most to me. Oladipo has drawn some comparisons to Wade and in that game, he isolated and got to the rim both times, once converting a layup and the other time getting to the foul line.

Wade has more than earned the right to be the closer. He has a film reel of hero ball shots throughout his career to make us well up with pride and even if this year's brand of hero ball has been mostly an abomination, asking him to change his approach isn't at all realistic. Wade was 0-2 before his last two 4th quarter shots of tonight's loss and felt the need to take matters into his own hands as the game slipped away. It's how he and other great athletes are wired.

Miami's been between 4 and 8 games below .500 since December without any signs of that changing and if things don't turn around soon, Miami will be out of the playoffs. Like the Phoenix Suns, who have lost on a staggering five buzzer-beater shots this season, perhaps this simply isn't the year for Miami to be winning close games and the law of averages will kick in next season to allow a Wade 20-foot buzzer or a Chalmers corner three to drop as time expires. No matter how often some analysts tout "clutchness" as a thing, there is simply an amount of serendipity that sometimes can't totally be accounted for.

Still, do you feel Miami's been unlucky, or do you have an alternate perspective to share? Any games I forgot? Feel free to comment below.