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Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Familiar trouble signs in Heat's loss

By Brian Windhorst

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Part of being the runner up-turned-favorite is dealing with both expectations and demons. This is not a new burden for the Miami Heat but it doesn’t mean they’re immune to the side effects, either.

The Heat have generally gotten off to a strong start to the season, blowing away their opponents most nights and winning at least three games so far that very easily could’ve been losses. So what happened Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors was part regression to the mean and part regression to 2011.

This time the Heat didn’t get the clutch shot and didn’t execute under pressure. And for all his talk about playing with a more free mental mindset and putting in the hours to work on his post game, LeBron James looked like the confused and tentative guy from last June in that pesky fourth quarter.

Coming from 17 points down the Warriors came back to beat the Heat 111-106 in overtime. It was a thrilling evening for the Golden State fans including owner Joe Lacob, who ripped off his suit coat and stomped around the sidelines down the stretch like a college coach. It was a season highlight film type win for the Warriors, who had lost five straight games and were struggling with scoring and injuries.

The Warriors’ best player, Monta Ellis, missed 16 shots and had nine turnovers. Two of the team’s starters, Stephen Curry and Andris Biedrins, didn’t play with injury and another, Kwame Brown, finished the game in the locker room. The game’s hero, Nate Robinson, had 24 points but also missed eight of 12 shots and had some absolutely mindless plays throughout the game.

Golden State entered the fourth quarter down 12 points and shot just 36 percent with five turnovers in the period. Heck, they only shot 31 percent with 12 turnovers in the entire second half. On their last four possessions of regulation the Warriors had two turnovers and, despite having 13 seconds, were unable to get a shot off on the last possession.

And they won the game!

“That game was there to be had,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We needed three defensive stops.”

Actually, the Heat got plenty of defensive stops. They had too many turnovers, 22 of them, but it was quite survivable because they held the Warriors to 40 percent shooting overall and forced 20 turnovers of their own.

The Heat (8-2) lost for the same reason they lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals and the same reason they had their earlier defeat of the season against the Atlanta Hawks, when they scored just 42 points in the second half. When under pressure, their offense is still a soft spot and it still starts with James.

After scoring 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting after three quarters, James did not even attempt a shot in the fourth quarter even as his team’s offense was hemorrhaging around him. Wade finished with 34 points and looked tremendous for much of the night. But he was 1-of-8 shooting in the fourth quarter, the effects of missing three games with a foot injury clearly catching up with him, and there was no support.

But with Wade struggling and Chris Bosh having a bad night and getting handled by the Warriors' David Lee -- Spoelstra actually pulled Bosh from the game for much of the final few minutes of regulation -- James was nowhere to be found. It was Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem taking the tough shots, and going 1-of-6 in the process. Playing against a defender in Dorell Wright that didn’t have the size to handle him in the post, James either never went there or was never instructed to go there.

On two of the biggest possessions of the game Spoelstra called for isolation plays for Wade, with James standing as a decoy outside the 3-point line. Which isn’t much of a danger since James has yet to hit a 3-pointer this season.

Though with the Heat down three with 23 seconds left in overtime and the team looking for a quick two-point basket and a quick foul, James took an unnecessary and overall terrible 3-pointer over the taller Lee with 11 seconds left. He missed and the game was essentially over, both mercifully and prematurely.

“I think we got some good looks, if I remember,” James said about those crunch-time possessions. “They didn’t go through.”

None of the looks were by him.

So a bad night and forgettable night on the whole for the Heat. Probably just a speed bump in the regular season. If nothing else, Wade’s results may have proved that his foot injury is not as serious as was feared several days ago.

But at some point the Heat and James are going to have to find a rhythm in tough fourth-quarter situations. Tuesday wasn’t just a missed opportunity, it was a setback.

“It was clearly a different game than we’ve been playing,” Spoelstra said. “That will change.”