Commentary

Woeful East foes didn't prepare Heat

Originally Published: January 30, 2014
By Israel Gutierrez | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- There were moments Wednesday night when the Miami Heat looked like they were facing NBA-level talent for the first time. They were sloppy, overwhelmed, disjointed.

Then there were more of those moments.

Then some more.

And when it was over, the tally was 21 Miami turnovers, leading to 25 Oklahoma City Thunder points and a 17-point loss.

At times, the Heat made passes that felt routine to them, but resulted in either a deflection or an outright turnover.

Other times, Heat players were determined to force a pass through the seemingly limitless reach of Thunder defenders. And those, too, resulted in turnovers.

[+] EnlargeMiami Heat
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsThe Heat started fast against the Thunder, but soon turnover issues put them on the losing path.
Then there were the passes where the Heat overcompensated for that Thunder length and quickness. And those turnovers would've been embarrassing even on the playground level.

In short, after those first six minutes when Miami took an 18-point lead, it looked as if the Heat were surprised an opponent could consistently disrupt their offense as effectively as the Thunder did. And Miami never seemed to get over that shock to the system.

"There were some forced turnovers, there were some unforced, uncharacteristic turnovers," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Some turnovers where we made the right play, and we just bobbled it or missed the catch, or the pass was a foot off, those kind of things. But when the other team is playing well, sometimes that can have an effect.

"We have some work to do. We're like everybody else in the league. Nobody is infallible. We know the things we have to improve on. We're not there yet."

And how could they be "there" yet?

When you're consistently playing teams in a largely lousy Eastern Conference, the Heat probably could've slept their way to a 32-12 record entering Wednesday (some would say Miami has been doing just that). And a team, even one as determined to three-peat as the Heat, can't help but either get comfortable playing at a less-than-elite level, or simply develop bad habits. Or both.

Now, the Heat didn't necessarily admit as much after losing to the Thunder 112-95, but you can read into some of their comments and realize they were at a "comfort level" that the Thunder immediately shook them out of.

"All the turnovers we had tonight, we've been able to execute those [other nights]," LeBron James said.

Added Dwyane Wade: "Each and every one of us had moments where we were so used to certain passes being there, and they weren't [tonight]. They did a great job at being in the places where we normally get the ball to our guys in their sweet spot. They're a very long team, as well as athletic. Next time we play them we'll have to make that adjustment, or it'll be the same result."

Let's make it a Big Three consensus: "We were trying to force it a little bit today, and that pretty much messed us up," Chris Bosh said.

Normally, those same plays are available against the Celtics, Bobcats and Sixers of the world. And in other cases, the Heat can simply recover from a poor performance with one strong quarter.

Not the case against the Thunder. The comeback attempt, if you can even call it that, was thwarted by a shooting display from Kevin Durant -- the type of stretch we've all gotten used to by now -- and a flurry of 3s from Durant's teammates.

It all made the Heat look like the largely inferior team.

In reality, though, this was a Heat team that was unprepared to face a team of Oklahoma City's caliber.

Yes, Miami has managed to perform and win against the Pacers, Blazers and Spurs, to name a few. But none of those teams present the challenges the Thunder do, and it was obvious Wednesday.

"We made it more difficult," Spoelstra said. "We have to shore up that [turnover] area. We've taken care of the ball better in years' past while still being aggressive."

That's a fact, yet one that hasn't really needed to be addressed until now.

Last season, the Heat turned the ball over 13.9 times a game. This year, they are turning it over 15.4 times a game, more than any season since LeBron joined Miami. Even if you go by turnover rate, it's still a full percentage point higher this season (16 percent) than last year (15 percent).

And against a team with the length, athleticism, smarts and skills that the Thunder possess (even without Russell Westbrook), that fatal flaw can be a mighty loud wake-up call.

"We shot 50 percent," said Bosh, shortchanging his team's offense by 1.4 percentage points. "I've never got beaten by 20 and shot 50 percent in a game. It's very simple what happened today. We have to improve."

It wasn't just the turnovers, either, that made this look like a mismatch.

The Heat were so determined to keep Durant from getting clean looks, they adjusted their defensive strategy, keeping a second defender on Durant longer than they normally do, and adjusting their rotations.

How much of that would Wade like to see changed?

"Everything. We can scrap the whole game plan," Wade said, mostly kidding. "Nah, we'll make some adjustments. We did a couple of things with our rotations that we normally don't do. But you know, in the season you try certain things and see if it works for you. Next time we play them, I'm sure we'll do it a little different."

That next time is Feb. 20 in Oklahoma City, which would seem to give Miami plenty of time to get adjusted. And it won't hurt that the Heat play plenty of quality teams in between (Clippers, Suns, Warriors, Mavericks).

If they meet again after that, it'll be in a Finals rematch. But based strictly on Wednesday's game, only one of these two teams appears equipped to reach that point.

The Thunder looked otherworldly. The Heat just looked like a team from that other conference.

Israel Gutierrez is an NBA writer for ESPN.com.

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