The Miami Heat had a chance to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers Jan. 31 and move into sole possession of the third seed in the Eastern Conference. They still had that chance after going an abysmal 3-for-28 from the 3-point line, missing 11 free throws and committing 19 turnovers.
They couldn’t get it done. James Johnson had the ball in the open court against LeBron James in the closing seconds following a missed Kyle Korver free throw. But Johnson didn’t even get a shot off before the final buzzer point, and the Heat lost a winnable game to the Cavaliers 89-91.
It was a winnable game because neither team deserved to win. Cleveland shot 6-for-26 from 3-point land, shot just 35 percent overall and played so badly that Cavs fans jeered the team in the fourth quarter after mishaps.
Looking back at this game, the Heat somehow botched several easy plays. James Johnson missed an easy fourth-quarter layup after having a wide open lane to the basket, throwing the ball up too close to the front rim. Earlier in the fourth period, Kelly Olynyk blew a fast-break opportunity, dribbling the ball too much after getting a steal and then hesitating with what to do as he got closer to the basket.
For three consecutive possessions in the third quarter, a simple down screen for Channing Frye flummoxed the Heat and led to easy Frye layups at the basket. If any of those things happened — or if the Heat made just one more 3 or a couple more free throws -- we could be having an entirely different conversation now.
In a rarity, Wayne Ellington failed to make a single 3-pointer Wednesday night, only managing to take three attempts in 26 minutes. The Cavaliers played some good defense on Ellington and prevented him from getting much space, but the Heat also didn’t run many players for the sharpshooter.
With the Kevin Love injury forcing the Cavaliers to go small, Hassan Whiteside was relegated to only 23 minutes of playing time. When he was on the court, Whiteside took advantage of Frye and made eight trips to the foul line. But Erik Spoelstra did not go to Whiteside in the fourth period, when Cleveland went even smaller and had Jeff Green, Jae Crowder and LeBron James in the front-court.
The few positive Heat moments came in the second period, when the Heat erased a 14-point deficit to go into the half with a two-point lead. Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow in particular played well, with Adebayo making a few nice plays against the undersized Cavs and playing good defense after switching to cover perimeter players.
Winslow finished one point shy of getting a double-double off the bench, going 4-of-7 from the field and making some a nice runner in the game. But on the other hand, Winslow and Adebayo were on the court during a brutal opening to the fourth quarter — when the Heat managed just five points in more than six minutes of action. The Heat had no offensive flow that stretch.
But the Heat really didn’t have any flow for much of that game. And now the Heat are a game-and-a-half behind Cleveland for the third spot.