When the Miami Heat talk about competition, the approach is often expressed as a willingness to play in the mud.
On Wednesday night at Miami-Dade Arena, Erik Spoelstra’s team created its own slop with a game-high 24 turnovers.
Ultimately, that provided too much adversity in a 104-100 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers that dropped the Heat four games behind the New York Knicks in the race for the No. 1 seed. 5 out of the Eastern Conference playoffs and three behind the Brooklyn Nets in the race. for no. 6.
“It’s extremely hard to win in this league when you have 24 turnovers,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Increasing their chances for a play-in position with 15 games remaining, the Heat now find themselves in a weak spot for the No. 7 seed, just one game ahead of the No. 8 Atlanta Hawks in that losing streak.
In the play-in, No. 7 hosts No. 8 in one game to decide the No. 1 playoff seed. 7 in the best-of-seven first round. The loser of that game no. 7-8 hosts the winner of game no. 9-10 for the No. 1 playoff seed. 8. The two teams that fail to advance from the playoffs are entered into the NBA draft lottery.
“We’ve got to win a few more games to get out of this,” forward Jimmy Butler said.
Butler led the Heat with 28 points, Tyler Herro added 22 and Bam Adebayo 17, on a night Adebayo grabbed just one rebound.
The Cavaliers were led by Darius Garland’s 25 points.
The teams conclude their four-game season series with a rematch at 8:00 PM 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 first period, but then trailed 57-53 at halftime, with 13 turnovers at that stage. Up to 20 turnovers through three quarters, the Heat entered the fourth down 87-82.
The Heat then trailed by seven before Butler came back with 6:25 to play. From there, Adebayo’s three-point play pulled the Heat within 98-93, making it another clutch game (within five or fewer points at any point in the final five minutes), leading the Heat to 47th.
Two free throws by Butler then made it a three-point play, with a transition dunk by Caleb Martin putting the Heat up 98-97.
From there, a Garland driving basket put Cleveland up 100-97, Victor Oladipo missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the other end and an Isaac Okoro layup to make it 102-97 Cleveland with 49 seconds to play .
But after the Cavaliers were called for a violation with five seconds left, Herro hit a 3-pointer to make it a 102-100 game.
The Heat then looked to come away with a steal on the Cavaliers’ inbound play, but Adebayo was called for a foul.
That sent Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen to the line with 20.1 seconds left. Allen made just the first free throw, but Max Strus was then stopped on a potential game-tying 3-pointer.
“I thought we played well, I thought we played hard, I thought we did a lot of good things,” Spoelstra said. “The business numbers were very heavy.”
2. Running time: With 7:34 to play, the Heat tied a season-high 24th turnover, a charge that was Oladipo’s fifth turnover of the night.
For an offense with so little wiggle room, it was largely a turnover assist disaster, with the Heat finishing with 22 assists.
Cleveland entered forcing 15.2 turnovers per game, seventh best in the league. The Heat entered with an average of 13.4 turnovers, sixth 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. False start: A silly perimeter foul in the opening minute led to a foul-filled first half for Adebayo, who was benched for the balance of the first half 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.
That prompted Spoelstra to rush backup center Cody Zeller back into the game with two fouls of his own.
He played with Omer Yurtseven available for a second straight game, who has yet to start his season, now recovering from ankle surgery in November.
Adebayo’s only comeback didn’t come until 1:57 remained.
“The rebounding gods were not on my side tonight,” Adebayo said.
4. Traveler: Despite flying to Los Angeles for the Lakers’ retirement of Pau Gasol’s jersey on Tuesday, Butler looked no worse for wear, his effort including a 12-of-15 performance 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 thing on Friday,” Butler said.
Of his whirlwind move to Los Angeles, Butler called it “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 returned from his one-game absence with a bruised rib and returned to the Heat’s starting lineup.
After several hugs with his former Cavaliers teammates during warmups, Love scored the Heat’s first four points and drew two layups in the first 3:57, returning to the bench with a smile during the game’s first timeout.
He finished with eight rebounds and eight assists in 20 minutes.
“We feel like we can’t keep going backwards,” Love said.