Heat look to get back on track at home vs. Spurs

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Home is where the Miami Heat have prospered, and they look to continue the trend against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night.

A return to AmericanAirlines Arena, where Miami is a league-best 17-1, could help reverse an ugly pattern that prevailed throughout last season and has resurfaced lately.

Miami missed the playoffs and losses against sub-.500 teams, notably to high-lottery entrants Phoenix, Atlanta and Chicago, didn’t help. A 27-12 start, third best in the Eastern Conference, has helped Miami overcome last season’s frustrations but recent performances are becoming worrisome.

For the first time this season, the Heat have lost consecutive games. And the concerning theme again are the losses to teams with inferior records.

Sunday’s 124-121 loss to the New York Knicks completed a 1-2 road trip that also included a 117-113 defeat to the Brooklyn Nets Friday. The Nets were winless in seven games before beating the Heat while the Knicks, 14th in the East, ended a five-game losing skid.

The forgetful New York weekend dropped Miami to 10-11 on the road. The Heat’s three previous road losses also were to sub.-500 Orlando, Washington and Memphis.

“The season has become real for us, like it becomes real for everybody,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Seasons don’t just go easy all the way through.

“Like I said, we’ve been able to bail ourselves out with incredible fourth quarters on both sides of the floor but these last couple of games we haven’t been able to defend and our offense dried out and you get the result like this.”

One solace in Sunday’s loss was the outing by Miami forward James Johnson. Although healthy, Johnson didn’t play in 18 consecutive games but has earned rotation minutes the past week. Johnson scored 19 points on 6-of-7 shooting in 19 minutes against the Knicks.

“Just keep to your work, keep your confidence and keep grinding and when you get your opportunity, make the most of it,” Johnson said.

Difficult to imagine that the Spurs are four games under .500 at this stage in the season. But San Antonio (17-21), which last finished with a losing season in 1996-97, has won three of its past four, including a 105-104 victory at defending champion Toronto on Sunday.

Former Raptor DeMar DeRozan scored 25 points and had eight rebounds in his second appearance at Toronto following his trade to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard before the 2018-19 season. The Spurs rallied from a 13-point deficit after three quarters.

“Once you have that confidence, no matter if you have a slow start, you’re not going to get down on yourself or get frustrated,” DeRozan said of the Spurs’ comeback win. “You know it’s going to come back around. It goes a long way and you can tell when guys have it.”

A victory over Miami will clinch a winning four-game road trip for the Spurs. In addition to the win over Toronto, San Antonio defeated Boston and lost at Memphis.

“I don’t think we’ve played a complete game yet,” Spurs forward Rudy Gay said. “So there is a lot of room for us to get better.”

The Spurs and Heat will become fairly acquainted in the next five days as the teams complete their two-game set. Following Wednesday’s game, Miami returns to the road for a two-game trip that concludes at San Antonio on Sunday.

–Field Level Media

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