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Rockets, Harden too much as Heat losing streak reaches five

Josh Richardson and Goran Dragic were able to help the Miami Heat keep pace with the Houston Rockets.

Until the Rockets and James Harden said enough was enough.

Just as they did in the teams' previous meeting this season.

Making a closing statement when needed, the Rockets extended the Heat's losing streak to five with a 109-101 victory Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

"We're not looking for moral victories at all," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We feel like we're a very good basketball team."

For all the Heat were able to get from their backcourt, including a career-high 30 points from Richardson and 30 from Dragic, there was no overcoming the 41 points of Harden, who was supported by the 22 points of backcourt partner Chris Paul.

"Their two best players stepped up and did what great players do down the stretch," Spoelstra said, with Harden's 41 the most against the Heat this season. "When we made even half a mistake, they made us pay."

The Heat also got 16 points and 17 rebounds from center Hassan Whiteside in falling to 0-2 on this three-game homestand.

The loss left the Heat just one game from falling out of an Eastern Conference playoff seed.

"It's not like we're relaxing right now," Dragic said. "Nobody is going to help us."

Richardson said the urgency is the same as it has been since the start of this slide.

"I think we felt this after the first loss and the second loss," he said.

Richardson said he did what he could defensively against Harden.

"He knows how to get fouled. He know how to score," Richardson said, with Harden 13 of 25 from the field and 10 of 12 from the line. "It seems like he has the game slowed down more than anybody."

Spoelstra pointed out that Richardson's performance came while defending both Harden and Paul.

"He was probably the only guy we could put on Harden or Paul that offered any kind of resistance," Spoelstra said. "He was terrific on both ends tonight."

Richardson said he felt he had to step up with both Kelly Olynyk and Wayne Ellington sidelined.

"I told the guys before the game we're all going to have to step up," Richardson said.

And the Heat did, until an 87-85 lead early in the fourth quarter faded into a 13-point deficit.

"We were right there," Dragic said. "They were just making some tough plays."

Both teams were forced to adjust because of injuries.

The Heat were without Olynyk and Ellington due to shoulder injuries, the first absence of the season for each.

With Olynyk out, Spoelstra opened with Justise Winslow at power forward, with Derrick Jones Jr., recalled earlier in the day from the G League, opening on the wing.

The Heat's starting lineup was rounded out by Whiteside, Richardson and Dragic, the Heat's 18th starting lineup in these first 55 games of the season.

"It's life in the NBA," Spoelstra said of the constant shuffle. "Everybody has to deal with that. So at least we've had some experience with it so far this season."

The Rockets also were shorthanded, without reserve guard Eric Gordon and starting forwards Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza. That had forwards Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker in Houston's starting lineup, along with Clint Capela, Harden and Paul.

As with the teams' previous game this season, the Heat found themselves positioned for the upset, this time up by the 87-85 early in the fourth quarter, before Houston scored the next nine points.

From there, Richardson matched his career high in points and 3-pointers with a 3-pointer to draw the Heat within 94-90, only to see his 3-pointer matched by one from Paul.

But with Harden converting a 3-pointer with 2:50 to play, Houston was able to push to a 104-94 lead. Another Harden 3-pointer, with 2:03 to play, made it 107-94, effectively ending it.

The Heat briefly moved into the lead in the third quarter before going into the fourth down 83-80, with Paul scoring the Rockets' final seven points of the third.

Harden was up to 28 points by then, with Dragic with 24 and Richardson with 22.

The Rockets entered 33-2 this season when carrying a lead into the fourth.

With Dragic scoring 10 consecutive points at one stage late in the second period and closing the quarter with 13, the Heat trimmed what had been a 17-point deficit in the period to a 61-57 halftime deficit.

Harden was up to 23 points by the intermission, with Dragic with 20 at that stage.

Harden loaded up with 16 first-quarter points, shooting 7 of 8 from the line in the period, helping to stake Houston to a 35-24 lead heading into the second period.

The game concluded the two-game season series.

The Heat, playing in the injury absences of Dragic and Tyler Johnson, built an early 14-point lead in the season's first meeting with the Rockets, on Jan. 22 at the Toyota Center, before Paul and Harden rallied Houston to the 99-90 victory. Harden closed with 28 points in the victory, with Whiteside contributing 22 points and 13 rebounds in the loss, but also with seven turnovers.

The Heat entered having won seven of their previous eight home games against the Rockets.

The Heat were seeking to avoid only their second two-game sweep at the hands of the Rockets since 2008-09.

The Heat were coming off Monday's 111-109 loss to the shorthanded Magic.

The Heat caught Houston on the second night of a back-to-back set, with the Rockets coming off a Tuesday victory in Brooklyn.

This is the last on a four-game trip for the Rockets that began with nationally televised victories over the Spurs and Cavaliers.

iwinderman@sunsentinel.com. Follow him at twitter.com/iraheatbeat or facebook.com/ira.winderman

For daily Heat mailbag go to sun-sentinel.com/askira

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