The Miami Heat tempted fate again. This time they got burned. Badly.
After rallying from a 19-point first-quarter deficit the previous time the teams met, the Heat this time fell behind by 25 in the opening period Wednesday night against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena and it got even worse from there in a 111-84 loss.
After victories in four of five games and then a rousing effort in Monday night's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, this again looked like the team that a week ago had fans considering draft-lottery permutations.
"Clearly, the entire night was a struggle for us," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "I don't have an explanation for it. There's no excuse for it. This was our worst game of the year.
"You have to credit them. They jumped all over us from the beginning and forced us into two timeouts before we even got to the six-minute mark, and we never could make any kind of significant run even to get it within striking distance, even in the first quarter."
With point guard Goran Dragic again sidelined for the 10th time in 12 games with pain in his right knee, and with Hassan Whiteside away for one more game on paternity leave before a planned Friday return against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Heat came out flat and got flatter, in an almost inexplicable turnaround, trailing by 42 at one stage.
"It was frustrating, it was disappointing," Spoelstra said. "This kind of game is not in our makeup and it's not acceptable. I really don't have an explanation for it. They jumped on us from an effort, energy standpoint, toughness, we were bobbling passes, traveling, missing catches, and then it became a domino going down the wrong way. And we just couldn’t get it back."
Rodney McGruder led the Heat with 16 points, with Donovan Mitchell scoring 21 for Utah.
"Just ball this one up and throw this one away," guard Dwyane Wade said. "When you’re on a six-game road trip, all you're trying to do go is go 3-3, and if you go 4-2 it's an amazing trip. So we got two on this trip already. Tonight they whipped our butt. But we don't harp on it. We've got to get ready for the next game."
The Heat closed at .377 from the field to Utah's .526.
Five degrees of Heat from Wednesday's game:
1. From the start: There have been few starts as ugly as this for the Heat, not only this season but over their 31 seasons.
The Jazz pushed to their 25-point lead in the first quarter, scoring the game's first 13 points, on the way to a 40-17 lead going into the second quarter.
So where to start? The Heat shot .333 in the first quarter to the Jazz's .700. Remarkably, the Jazz build that lead without a single player scoring more than six points over the first 12 minutes. (Of course, no Heat player scored more than four in the opening period).
It was eerily similar to the Heat falling behind by those 19 points in the first quarter of the teams' last meeting, a game the Heat rallied to win 102-100 by responding with a 20-0 first-half surge.
This time, on the road, there was no such pushback.
"We used our momentum from our crowd to get back in it," Wade said of the previous meeting. "Tonight we didn't have that momentum from the crowd to get back in it. They got that lead and they held it comfortably. We couldn't get an offensive flow to go at all."
2. The lineup: Then again, it wasn't as if the Heat were loaded with scoring options in a starting lineup lacking Dragic.
With Spoelstra preferring to keep Justise Winslow in what had grown into a comfortable bench role, that had the Heat opening with an offensively challenged first five of Bam Adebayo, James Johnson, Josh Richardson, McGruder and Tyler Johnson.
Tyler Johnson was a non-factor in the first quarter to the point that his only stats in the period were two fouls and a turnover, not even attempting a shot.
"I'm not going to necessarily indict this starting lineup," Spoelstra said, "because every rotation that we had in there didn’t really play well. So it’s tough to really evaluate that."
3. No backup plan: With the Heat lacking a true backup point guard, it again put Richardson in a ballhandling role at a time when the Heat needed to explore more of his offense.
The Heat have been reluctant to add a veteran ballhandler for their vacant 15th roster spot, especially with Winslow thriving in such a role off the bench, citing the surfeit of guards on the roster.
But with Dragic's right knee becoming a tenuous proposition, it would seem that exploring something in reserve, even at the (luxury-)taxing rate of $20,000 a day might have to be considered.
As for James Johnson quarterbacking the offense, with his explosion missing, he is not nearly the confident component he had been prior to last season's sports hernia that eventually required May surgery and did not have him back until a month ago.
4. Saving grace: At least there is a guaranteed Wade moment in each of these finals visits to Western Conference arenas.
This time the public-address announcer bellowed, "Checking in for his last game in Salt Lake City," when Wade entered in the first quarter.
While it was nothing like Monday's game against the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James at Staples Center, there were cheers just about every time Wade touched the ball.
He gave his jersey to fellow Marquette alum Jae Crowder and signed his shoes for 2003 draft classmate Kyle Korver.
"It's so much appreciation to each organization for acknowledging me," Wade said. "I definitely appreciate it."
5. Something borrowed: As the Jazz adjust to the recent acquisition of Korver, Utah coach Quin Snyder said he is taking a page from the Heat approach with Wayne Ellington.
"We utilize him as kind of a weapon in certain situations in the half-court with an offense that kind of works around him," Snyder said. "There is a lot that we still are figuring out."
Korver fueled the Jazz from distance Wednesday night.
"We are trying to figure out how to mesh rotations with him and who to play with him," Snyder said.
Korver closed 4 of 5 on 3-pointers.
Ellington, by the way, was back for the Heat after missing the past three games, the first two for the funeral of his grandmother.
For daily Heat mailbag go to sun-sentinel.com/askira