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  • Jorge Cantu

Too Close: The Story of the Miami Heat After Week One

Sun Sentinel

Each of the Miami Heat’s three games this opening week was decided by one possession, including two one-point games. Those uncomfortable late-game situations could have been avoided had Miami taken better care of the basketball, as the team registered 52 turnovers over the three-game span. Many of those turnovers were unforced and simply a result of desperation, impatience, and unawareness. With the team suffering from several injuries to key rotation players, this carelessness cannot continue to be a common topic in their box scores.

Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington, and Dion Waiters are yet to play a game this season and the Heat have certainly missed their contributions; it did not help that Miami’s schedule started with a back-to-back on the road that was part of a three games in four nights set. Making as many mistakes as the Heat did to start the season is not ideal when they are this short-handed.

“We have a very competitive group in that locker room, as we all know,” said coach Erik Spoelstra this past Saturday after losing the home opener. “Our guys will keep digging, scratching, crawling. We have to understand how each possession does matter and come out with that kind of disposition to start and make sure it’s consistent all the way through. But that doesn’t guarantee you anything.”

The Heat’s opponents got some very good looks off turnovers; after week one, the team is averaging the third most turnovers in the league. Add that to the second lowest field goal percentage mark (41.3%) in the NBA and you get the near-perfect recipe for disaster.

Something I found truly surprising was the team’s lack of effort in these close games. In the following play, watch how Magic guard Jonathon Simmons kicks it out to teammate Mo Bamba for a three that misses, but Simmons is able to easily grab the offensive board when none of the four Heat players right under the rim box out or decide to jump for the rebound:

Even with Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside on the team, it is clear the team is still lacking a go-to star who can act under pressure in crunch time. With opportunities to take the lead, the Miami youngsters seemed scared of making a costly mistake: they hesitated on open shots, they made excessive passes, they were afraid of the spotlight. It is Josh Richardson’s job to embrace his role as the future of the franchise by taking those shots. Hopefully his confidence does not abate after costing the team a chance to win the game when he stepped out of bounds with three seconds left on the clock and the Heat down by one against the Orlando.

The defense was also very questionable at times. Miami has been a pretty solid defensive squad over the last couple of seasons, so seeing them struggle as much on that end as they have thus far is certainly concerning. As much as I love Dwyane Wade and his offensive contributions, he cost the team more than a handful of points on D.

The man on his one last dance was just abused by backdoor cutters left and right.

Not everything was negative for Miami, however, as even amid all their struggles they have been very good in the offensive rebounding department; the Heat actually lead the NBA in offensive boards per game (16.0). Not coincidentally, the only game they won this week featured a total 22 offensive rebounds by the team – one of which immediately preceded the Kelly Olynyk game-winning layup. If those offensive rebounds can translate into more second chance points, Miami will have a great advantage over many teams in the league.

A big part of this offensive rebounding success can be attributed to Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo. That two-man lineup also has a 77 defensive rating in nine minutes; and though that is a very small sample size, it will be important to keep an eye on how the duo performs moving forward to see if they are good enough offensively to have them play together for extended periods.

Both of the Heat’s losses featured hot starts that saw Miami leading by nine points midway through the first quarter, but it all inexplicably fell apart thereafter. Two unlikely contributors in Derrick Jones Jr. and Rodney McGruder were bright spots in a week when the Heat needed their biggest names on the roster to shine but did not. Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, and Josh Richardson were not efficient on offense and could have certainly done better jobs down the stretch.

Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Coach Spoelstra made the right decision to start Rodney McGruder, who is the team’s third leading scorer behind Richardson and Dragic and has shot an impressive 9-for-18 from deep. He and fellow starter Derrick Jones Jr. kept the team afloat when they were down by 20+ against the Hornets. The energy Jones brought to the team with his loud dunks fueled the near-comeback in the home opener.

Kelly Olynyk has been far from his last season self, and that is saying something because Mr. Man Bun had a truly special campaign last year. A three-point specialist, Olynyk has missed six of his eight threes thus far. Still, he gets a pass this week for giving the team a win against the Wizards. Tyler Johnson has similarly struggled, going only 2-for-10 from downtown and scoring a mere 18 points on 20 field goal attempts.

Whiteside was really good on both ends on opening night, but fell off offensively in the next two contests. He is still a legit rim protector – he has five total blocks – tough he needs to bring it consistently on offense. He caught several high lobs and the team’s playmakers need to explore ways to create more offense above the rim for Hassan. That will mainly be Dragic’s job, but it can be hard for him to focus on distributing when his teammates are not making their shots. His 13 third quarter points brought the Heat back into the Hornets game in which the Heat was down by 26 at one point.

All in all, there are still a lot of positive takeaways from week one. It was tough, but it also was a test to a Miami Heat roster that has often been dismissed as a playoff contender since LeBron James’ departure in 2014. I feel confident in them being much better as soon as Winslow and James Johnson return to the court – especially on the defensive end – and one can only hope the team improves their shot selection and starts making more of the many open shots they missed in their first three games.

Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

As for the all of the close games, locker room leader Dwyane Wade is not concerned at all. “That’s one thing I’m not worried about. We just got to figure out a way to win more. Last year we were in a lot of close games, probably the most in the NBA. You want to win at least five to 10 more of those. So, I’m not worried about this team’s heart, this team’s effort, none of that. That’s going to be there. You just want to figure out a way to come out with these kind of wins so you can, instead of having 43 wins, you end up winning five to seven more, you get close to 50 wins. That’s what we got to try to figure out.”

All data and statistics obtained from NBA Stats and Basketball Reference.

You can follow Jorge on Twitter @CantuNBA for more Miami Heat coverage and content.

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