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NBA Daily: HEAT Getting Cool At The Wrong Time

The HEAT are 3-9 in the last 12 games and in danger of falling out of the playoff race.

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Since the start of February, the Miami HEAT have fallen from the fourth playoff seed to the verge of falling out of the playoff picture altogether. The team is currently eighth in the East and 2.5 games ahead of the ninth-place Pistons after losing 131-113 at home to the Lakers Thursday night and posting a 3-9 record over its last 12 games. The team cited a breakdown in its defensive identity as a major contributing factor.

“It was very, to all of us, disappointing to have breakdowns in our defensive coverage,” said HEAT guard Dwyane Wade. “I know it’s definitely something that will be a point of emphasis going forward. But when you lose games that way, it’s worse because you should be able to take away something and we didn’t take anything away tonight. We kept talking about getting two and three stops in a row and we didn’t get enough of those.”

Miami point guard Goran Dragic was even more brutal in his assessment. He added that Miami has struggled against teams like the Lakers that play with pace.

“We basically didn’t even defend,” said Dragic, who leads the team with 19.5 points per game since being named an All-Star. “They were shooting 60 percent from the field. We have athletic guys but it’s the way they play. I feel like in the past with Brooklyn, they play fast. With all those teams we have a little bit of trouble. Our conversion back to defense was not good.”

HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra said the Lakers beat Miami with pace and energy, but struggled to explain why his team is having so many defensive issues this late in the season.

“The why, I don’t know,” said Spoelstra. “We are much, much better than what we showed tonight defensively. This has not been our formula all year long and that’s what’s so perplexing.

“We have the ability to be one of the very best defensive teams in the league. Our roadmap is pretty clear. And then we have games like this, home or away, where it just gets out of control.”

The Lakers got balanced scoring, with six players in double figures, including 29 from new addition Isaiah Thomas off the bench. Miami also had six players in double figures, led by 25 from Wade off the bench. However, the HEAT was outscored by 18 in Wade’s 26 minutes and by a game-worst 30 in Josh Richardson’s 36 minutes.

Spoelstra said he’s been happy with Wade’s offensive contributions.

“I thought he took great shots today,” said Spoelstra. “Everything has come within the flow.”

Despite the coach’s positive outlook, the HEAT is being outscored by 7.3 points per 100 possessions in Wade’s 161 minutes in a Miami jersey this season. Richardson hasn’t been much better at -6.2 in 370 minutes since Feb. 1, and James Johnson has fallen off a cliff, posting a -10.7 net rating over the same span. By contrast, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Justise Winslow, Kelly Olynyk and Dragic have all been +2.3 or better during the same time frame.

Winslow’s +7.3 net rating since Feb. 1 leads the team among players with at least 200 minutes, a hugely-encouraging sign for a player who has not lived up to expectations. He’s only averaging 6.9 points for that part of the season, but he has led the team with 47 percent three-point shooting.

For the season, the HEAT has posted a 104.4 defensive rating, which just barely makes the top 10. Over the last 11 games, however, Miami is allowing 107.3, which ranks 15th. It isn’t a massive drop-off, but as Spoelstra suggested, the HEAT will need to recover its defensive identity for the stretch run. The Pistons and Hornets are desperate to get into the playoff picture in the East, and Miami can’t afford to let this season slip away.

Buddy Grizzard has written for ESPN.com and BBallBreakdown and served as an editor for ESPN TrueHoop Network.

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