With the championship phase of the Las Vegas Summer League tournament underway on Wednesday, the Miami Heat fell 76-64 to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday for their third straight loss.
Miami got off to quick 8-0 start led by Shabazz Napier, who returned to the starting lineup after a day off, but the Hawks soon proved they were evenly matched with the Heat. There were several lead changes in the first quarter before the Hawks began increasing their lead in the second quarter.
Continuing to show the positive improvement since coming back from hernia surgery that prematurely ended his rookie season, Napier was aggressive from the start and didn't let up as he attacked the basket with each passing opportunity but also mindful of getting his teammates involved once the defense collapsed on him. He finished with 22 points to lead all scorers and racked up 13 free throw attempts, mostly as a result of his effective penetration, and also had two assists and two rebounds. Though he had seven turnovers to his name, Napier's positive development in his second year is a welcome sign for the Heat.
"He's been great in terms of getting to the paint, paint touches, he got to the free throw line," said coach Dan Craig. "That's what we want out of him: high motor, how many times can he get to the paint and make plays for us."
While Napier played well to lead the Heat's offense, James Ennis' struggles continue to be of concern for someone with as much experience as he does. He was the last Heat player to score a point in the game when he converted a free throw with eight minutes remaining in the final quarter. He had missed six shots from the field, including three from beyond the arc, as well as three free throws before that point and didn't score again. He also had three steals, one assist, five personal fouls, and three turnovers in 25 minutes.
"He's trying to get in rhythm a little bit and his injury hasn't helped him," said Craig of Ennis' struggles in Summer League. "He hasn't really gotten consistent play, which I think kind of breaks up his rhythm. So I think last summer he was able to play consistently — actually the last two summers — so I think that (lack of) rhythm probably hurt him."
With an unforgiving Summer League schedule featuring plenty of basketball but little breaks in action, the Heat once again seemed to be a step slow — particularly in the second half — which slowed down their attack but in truth there was little support for Napier.
"There's a couple of guys that haven't sat out — I think this is five games in six nights — that you did see a little fatigue set in," Craig said. "I thought the guys actually played well. We missed some open threes down the stretch and again, we left eight free throws out there that if we had hit those it would have been a ball game down the stretch."
Though it was another disappointing finish for the team, the continued development of Napier from year one to year two in light of his injury setback was welcome news for the Heat.
"I think he looks night and day since last summer," said Craig. "Just from a speed standpoint and attack mentality. He was not getting into the paint like that last summer and his pace and his quickness has improved which is what we wanted to see. I think in that regard just his overall motor and his paint touches, it's been a great summer for him."
Winslow absent in order to attend ESPYS
Though Craig confirmed that Justise Winslow would have played today had he been available, the rookie was excused from the team in order to join his Duke teammates in Los Angeles for the ESPYS award ceremony.
"Shabazz had the same situation last year and that's important," he said. "You accomplish something like that, the whole franchise is behind him and we're supporting him. We wish him the best of the luck at the ESPYS."