When the Miami Heat talks about competing, the approach is often expressed as a willingness to play in the mud.
Wednesday night at Miami-Dade Arena, Erik Spoelstra’s team created their own slop with a season-high 24 turnovers.
That ended up generating a lot of adversity in a 104-100 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost the Heat four games behind the New York Knicks in the battle for fifth place in the playoffs in the Eastern Conference and three behind the Brooklyn Nets in the race. for #6.
“It’s extremely difficult to win in this league when you have 24 turnovers,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
With the chances of a play-in berth increasing with 15 games remaining, the Heat now find themselves in a tenuous position for 7th, just one game ahead of the 8th Atlanta Hawks in that losing column.
In the play-in, No. 7 gets No. 8 in a single game to decide the No. 7 playoff in the best-of-seven first round. The loser of that game #7-8 receives the winner of game #9-10 for eighth place in the playoff. The two teams that fail to advance out of the play-in round are placed in the NBA draft lottery.
“We’ve got to win a few more games to get out of this,” said forward Jimmy Butler.
Butler led the Heat with 28 points, with Tyler Herro adding 22 and Bam Adebayo 17, on a night when Adebayo grabbed just one rebound.
The Cavaliers were led by Darius Garland’s 25 points.
The teams cap off their four-game season streak with an 8 pm rematch on Friday at Miami-Dade Arena.
Five degrees of heat from Wednesday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Heat led 30-26 at the end of the opening period, but then trailed 57-53 at halftime, with 13 comebacks at that stage. With up to 20 turnovers in three quarters, the Heat went into the fourth losing 87-82.
The Heat then went seven before Butler returned with 6:25 to play. From there, a three-point play by Adebayo tied the Heat at 98-93, making it another clutch game (with five or fewer points at any point in the final five minutes), the Heat’s 47th league leader.
Two free throws by Butler made it a three-point game, with a transitional dunk by Caleb Martin bringing the Heat up to 98-97.
From there, a Garland field goal brought Cleveland to 100-97, with Victor Oladipo missing a potential 3-pointer at the other end and an inside tackle by Isaac Okoro making Cleveland 102-97 with 49 seconds to play.
But after the Cavaliers were called for a five-second inning violation, Herro drilled a 3-pointer to make the game 102-100.
The Heat then appeared to steal the inbounds game from the Cavaliers, but Adebayo was fouled.
This sent Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen to the line with 20.1 seconds left. Allen only hit the first free throw, but Max Strus went for a possible 3-point tie.
“I think we played well, I think we played hard, I think we did a lot of good things,” Spoelstra said. “The twists were very difficult.”
2. Rotation time: With 7:34 left, the Heat set a season-high with their 24th turnover, which was Oladipo’s fifth turnover of the night.
For an offense with so little room to maneuver, it was largely an assist-to-turnover disaster, as the Heat closed out with 22 assists.
Cleveland came in forcing 15.2 turnovers per game, seventh best in the league. The Heat came in averaging 13.4 turnovers, sixth lowest in the NBA.
In addition to Oladipo’s five turnovers, Adebayo, Herro and Kevin Love each had three for the Heat. The only Heat player without a turnover was Strus.
“There were some unforced ones, for sure,” Spoelstra said.
3. Wrong start: A silly perimeter foul in the opening minute led to a foul-filled first half for Adebayo, who was forced to the bench for halftime even with his third foul with 7:25 left in the second period.
Adebayo was up to 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting when forced to sit.
This led to Spoelstra bringing backup center Cody Zeller back into the game with two fouls of his own.
That came with Omer Yurtseven available for a second consecutive game, yet to make his debut of the season, now recovered from ankle surgery in November.
Adebayo’s only rebound didn’t come until 1:57 remained.
“The rebounding gods were not on my side tonight,” said Adebayo.
4. Traveling man: Despite flying to Los Angeles for Tuesday’s retirement of Pau Gasol’s jersey for the Lakers, Butler didn’t look the worse for wear, his effort including 12 of 15 performances from the foul line.
All the while, he continued his relentless pursuit of the offensive glass, this time with four offensive rebounds.
“We have to have the next one on Friday,” Butler said.
Of her whirlwind to Los Angeles, Butler said, “Very important to me. Pau has been a brother to me since our days in Chicago. He taught me how to be a professional. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
5. Love is Love: Love was back from his one-game absence with a bruised rib and back in the Heat’s starting lineup.
After several hugs with his former Cavaliers teammates during the warmup, Love scored the Heat’s first four points and tied two shots in the first 3:57, returning to the bench with a smile during the game’s first timeout.
He closed with eight rebounds and eight assists in 20 minutes.
“We feel that we cannot continue to be late,” said Love.
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