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The Heat need to live on razor’s edge

Miami’s inconsistent play has the team dealing with an identity crisis early in the season.

NBA: Miami Heat at Sacramento Kings Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat dropped to 2-5 this NBA season on Saturday with another lackluster performance on the road against the previously winless Sacramento Kings. What was a God-awful first half was balanced by a spirited second half comeback which fell short down the stretch of the fourth quarter, as Miami’s consistent theme of inconsistency to start their 35th campaign in franchise history continues to rear its ugly head.

Miami, last season’s top-seed in the East which now finds itself near the bottom of the league standings, trailed by 22 when both teams returned to their dug-outs for halftime.

The Kings looked incredibly comfortable on offense, leaning on quick-hitting actions and Domantas Sabonis’ playmaking in the elbow to counter whatever defensive effort the Heat displayed, which bordered between apathetic and lazy for 24 minutes.

Repeatedly the Kings’ speedy playmakers such as De’Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell broke down Miami’s perimeter defense which led to easy kick-out opportunities for Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray, and Harrison Barnes. Sabonis feasted via easy drop-offs in the paint against Miami’s lack of size up front, while also maneuvering well against the 2-3 zone Erik Spoelstra likes to throw out.

The Kings used Miami’s switching against them, getting favorable matchups size-wise that would begin a series of passes and motion and put Sacramento in advantageous scoring positions.

The home squad shot 64% in the first two quarters, preventing Miami from getting out in transition. The Heat hit only 34% from the field before halftime, highlighted by weak two-man action while teammates stood stagnant on the weakside.

Over and over again the Heat found themselves in late-clock situations out in the perimeter, a handicap for a team that lacks individual creation and playmaking from outside the arc.

Miami caught a break when Sabonis picked up his fifth foul early in the third period, opening the door for the comeback. Shots started to fall in, Sacramento’s offense wasn’t as crisp without their facilitating big man, and Tyler Herro found himself in one of those rhythms where whenever he put the ball up, it felt like it would go in.

The Kings’ lead was trimmed all the way down to one but each time Miami got within striking distance, they found themselves trailing by multiple possessions anew whether through their own mistakes or timely jumpers from the Kings, who still found ways to penetrate into the paint.

The bottom line is Sacramento held on against a team that should be better than them, but failed to match their level of competition to begin the contest. And that’s surprising given this is a team that takes pride in its “culture” where the main theme is competition.

Frankly speaking, Miami doesn’t have the explosive prowess to play catch-up regularly, which is what they’ve done in the last two weeks.

“That’s been a little bit of a trend, out starts defensively,” Spoelstra admitted afterwards.

“Our disposition in transition defense and also protecting the paint just was not at the level necessary to win a game on the road and that’s been a handful of our games – we’ve started slow defensively and we pick up as we get going and that’s proven to be very costly. That has to change.”

Spoelstra says that they “understand the answers to our test.”

“Everybody has their own test and you have your own identity to create. We just have to fully commit to that and doing it together.”

As Spo continued to harp on playing to the Heat’s identity, he also made it clear that individual heroism will not be the solution.

He’s right in saying the current look might be worse than their reality, because Miami still has the potential to be competitive against any adversary in the league, especially as they were coming off a rather impressive showing on a back-to-back on the road against the defending champion.

But their margin for error is slim. Even their best punch doesn’t guarantee a victory, and that’s tough to be on your resume when you’re trying to contend for a title.

This is the reality, at least for right now. And if the “pain of losing” won’t get them to live more on that “razor’s edge” soon, then their opponents will consistently provide them with a cold splash of the hard truth.