With 9:17 left in the Miami Heat’s game against the Houston Rockets Wednesday, Josh Richardson drained a 3 that gave Miami an 87-85 lead. The Heat had roared back from a 17-point second-quarter deficit, and Richardson was on his way to a career-high 30-point game. Miami stood a legitimate chance to pull off the upset.
As has occurred all too often during this now five-game losing streak, the Heat failed to create good shots in crunch time. The Rockets soon grabbed ahold of a lead they would never relinquish to come away with a 109-101 victory. Miami is now just three games above .500 for the season, at 29-26, as the All-Star break approaches.
Goran Dragic made a finger-roll layup with 3:46 left to pull Miami within 99-94, but it took the Heat nearly two minutes to score again (another Dragic layup). But by then, Houston had reeled off eight unanswered points.
In essence, the Rockets had James Harden and Chris Paul draining 3s. The Heat had James Johnson posting up P.J. Tucker and coming up empty.
Now, the Heat aren’t exactly expected to defeat the Rockets, a team that just won its 40th game and holds the second-best record in the NBA. And Wayne Ellington and Kelly Olynyk, two key contributors, both missed the game with shoulder injuries. If the Heat played this game having defeated the Orlando Magic, Cleveland Cavaliers and Sacramento Kings in the last two weeks (the Philadelphia/Detroit road back-to-back last weekend was a tough stretch), it wouldn’t be a cause for concern. But when it comes as the Heat head into the game with a four-game losing streak, it’s another frustrating loss that magnifies the mistakes that have plagued Miami.
Richardson and Dragic each dropped 30 points, going a combined 22-for-37 from the field and 9-for-13 from the 3-point line. They are Miami’s two best players, but neither of them is quite good enough (in Richardson’s case, we can add the qualifier “yet”) to create their own shot.
In NBA crunch-time situations, sometimes you need those players. It’s why Dion Waiters’ late-game 3s last year helped the Heat during their 30-11 run last season. Sometimes, good coaching can help you win close games — look at the Heat’s close wins during their eight-game win streak just last month. Other times, you need a player who can drain a contested jumper.
Due to Olynyk’s absence, G-League call-up Derrick Jones Jr. got the start for Miami. The Rockets were happy to leave him open, and he didn’t make Houston pay. Jones went just 1-for-7 from the field. Winslow, Miami’s other starting forward, wasn’t much better, at 2-for-7 from the field. At times, Houston ignored both Jones and Winslow to load up on Dragic and Richardson.
In a bit of a change, Hassan Whiteside got legitimate fourth-quarter minutes this time. Whiteside played the final six minutes of the game and finished with 16 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the field and 17 rebounds. Whiteside out-played Bam Adebayo Wednesday night, but he still rushed a couple shots and missed a couple shots against smaller defenders.
After tomorrow afternoon’s trade deadline, the Heat host the Milwaukee Bucks Friday at 8 p.m.