The Miami Heat have been here before.
Well, not literally here, at Crypto.Com Arena, but against an opponent lacking similar depth and breadth of the roster.
On that early December night, Erik Spoelstra’s team found a way to lose on the road to a Memphis Grizzlies team lacking Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and other starters.
This time, on Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers offered even less star power, lacking LeBron James due to illness and Anthony Davis due to injury.
So this time the Heat outdid themselves, or, more to the point, undid themselves, stumbling to a 112-109 loss that interrupted the momentum of what had been eight victories in their previous 11 games.
“Honestly, I think we tend to do that,” forward Jimmy Butler said of playing down to the level of competition, “It’s not very professional.”
The loss came despite Butler stepping up his game to compensate for an off night from Tyler Herro, and with Bam Adebayo again providing consistent post play with his third consecutive 30-point game.
Adebayo closed with 30 points and 13 rebounds, Butler with 27 points. No other Heat player scored more than 12.
“Every time we get a little bit of footing on the season,” Spoelstra said, “then we have a disappointing loss.”
The Lakers were led by Dennis Schroder’s 32 points, with Russell Westbrook offering 21 points, eight rebounds and nine assists off the Lakers bench.
The Lakers put it away by scoring on 11 of the final 12 possessions.
“We’ve got to find a way to guard the ball,” Butler said, “as simple as that.”
Five Degrees of Heat from Wednesday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Lakers led 32-23 at the end of the first period, 52-48 at halftime, after going up 13 in the second period, and 79-78 going into the fourth quarter.
The Heat then moved to a six-point edge early in the fourth quarter, their largest lead to that stage, only to see Schroder put the Lakers back up 92-90 with 5:22 to play. Schroder then got back to the line on a three-shot foul with 2:35 to play, putting the Lakers up 102-96.
Butler followed with a 3-pointer to draw the Heat within 102-99.
It remained a 3-point game until Adebayo scored on a putback to draw the Heat within 104-103 with 62 seconds to play.
Schroder then got to the line with 43.6 seconds left, making both free throws for a 106-103 Lakers lead.
An unsuccessful Lakers replay challenge followed on a call that sent Heat guard Victor Oladipo to the line with 39.5 seconds to play. Oladipo made only the second free throw, to leave the Heat down 106-104.
But back came Schroder with a driving layup and 108-104 Lakers lead with 20.3 to play.
“They got to their shots,” Heat point guard Kyle Lowry said. “They got to their strengths.”
The Heat then burned their final two timeouts attempting to inbound, with an Adebayo putback basket drawing the Heat within 108-106 with 15.4 seconds left.
A Westbrook basket with 4.2 seconds to play made it a four-point game, with a Max Strus 3-pointer drawing the Heat within 110-109 with 3.2 seconds to play.
Two Schroder free throws closed the scoring, with Butler off with a 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
“It was not just down the stretch,” Adebayo said of the Heat’s failings. “There were so many missed opportunities.”
2. Adebayo again: With Lakers coach Darvin Ham the latest to heap praise on Adebayo, the Heat center then went out and closed the first half with 12 points and five rebounds, up to 23 points at the end of the third period.
“My teammates were just giving me the ball,” said Adebayo, who joined Dwyane Wade, Glen Rice and James as Heat players with at least three consecutive 30-point games.
But with Adebayo back in a switching role defensively, it often left the Heat playing undersized at the rim in late-clock situations, with Lakes center Thomas Bryant taking advantage on his 21-point night.
Ultimately, the Heat lost the game at the defensive rim.
“They kind of set the tone in the first quarter just driving and attacking us relentlessly and we just weren’t able to get a hold of that part of our defense,” Spoelstra said.
“It was just one drive after another.”
3. Measured approach: Two days after saying he still was hopeful of further improvement with his troublesome right knee, and two nights after being limited to nine points against the Clippers, Butler took a measured approach early but then showed a more aggressive bent, scoring eight points in the first 2:43 of the second half.
Butler’s ninth point moved him past Shaquille O’Neal for 17th on the Heat all-time scoring list.
He was up to 23 points going into the fourth, after scoring 13 in the third period.
But he did not exit pleased.
“We’ve just got to figure this thing out,” he said.
4. Something big: Dewayne Dedmon returned to the Heat rotation after missing the previous six games, the first three due to plantar fasciitis and the next three due to NBA health-and-safety protocols.
Dedmon’s previous action was the Dec. 20 home loss to the Chicago Bulls.
Dedmon actually was the second Heat big man off the bench, with two-way player Orlando Robinson given the initial minutes behind Adebayo.
Of having Dedmon back, with Omer Yurtseven and Nikola Jovic out, Spoelstra said pregame. “We’ll take the depth when we can get it.”
Dedmon entered for the first time with 6:29 to play in the second period, then played ahead of Robinson in the second half.
Ultimately, Dedmon played only seven minutes, Robinson only his initial four.
5. Five on the floor: For the first time since Dec. 10-12, the Heat opened with the same lineup as the previous game, with their preferred first five of Adebayo, Caleb Martin, Butler, Lowry and Herro. The Heat are now 6-8 with that starting lineup.
“We just can’t have these lack-of-concentration games,” Lowry said.