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Heat issues this season tied to major drop-off in 3-point shooting

Washington Wizards v Miami Heat

MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 25: The Miami Heat huddle up before the game against the Washington Wizards on November 25, 2022 at FTX Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

MIAMI — Clank. Clank. In-and-out. Clank. Clank. Clank. Clank. Back rim. Missed almost everything. Clank. Back rim. Back rim. Front rim.

Those were the results of 13 consecutive 3-point shots taken by the Miami Heat on Wednesday night.

The Heat were the NBA’s best 3-point shooting team last season at 38%, and - almost inexplicably -- can’t shoot straight this season. They’re 28th in the 30-team league from beyond the arc so far this year at 33%, going from first to almost-worst in an unprecedented drop-off.

And they’re dead last in scoring, another obviously bad omen: Over the last 40 seasons, only three teams were last in scoring for a full regular season and still made the playoffs. Miami is averaging 107.9 points per game, almost two points behind No. 29 Houston - the team with the worst record in the NBA.

“We’re getting the looks,” Heat forward Kevin Love said. “We just, plain and simple, need to hit shots.”

It is plain. Evidently, it is not so simple.

No team has ever led the league in shooting from 3-point range one year and been 28th or worse the next season. Only two teams in the last 20 seasons have been the NBA’s best on 3’s one year and fallen out of the top 10 the next season.

And whatever the problem is, it’s been contagious for Miami.

Max Strus shot 41% on 3’s last season; he’s at 33% this season. Caleb Martin has gone from 41% to 36%. Gabe Vincent has gone from 37% to 32%. Tyler Herro is down a bit, from 40% to 37%. Duncan Robinson has made more 3’s than any player in Heat history and can’t even get into the rotation right now, in part because he’s gone from a 45% shooter from deep during Miami’s Eastern Conference title year in 2019-20 to a 32% shooter from 3-point range now.

“We’ve got guys who can shoot,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “We know that. It’s always on us to make sure the shooters get the right shots.”

Those 13 consecutive misses on 3’s in Wednesday’s game - the second-worst drought for the Heat this season; they missed 14 straight against Indiana in December - saw Miami go from up 43-39 to down 102-80 and the game basically being over.

Philadelphia outscored Miami by 24 points on 3-pointers. Probably not coincidentally, the 76ers won the game by 23 points – 119-96.

It was the 11th time this season the Heat failed to score 100 points, tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for the most in the NBA. Teams that don’t score 100 almost have no chance of winning in this era: the leaguewide record in such games this season is 21-168, or a winning percentage of .111.

“Just the consistency and sustainability of our offense, that’s what we have to get to,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

That’s part of the problem. Miami’s offense is consistent, and that’s not a good thing.

In a season where scoring is up - teams are averaging more points per game this season than the league has seen in more than 50 years - the Heat haven’t kept pace. Wednesday’s game was the eighth in a row where the Heat failed to score 110 points, matching the longest such drought in the NBA this season.

They’ve lost five of their last six games; on Friday, they play host to a New York Knicks team that has won seven in a row and has averaged 123.7 points in that span – with 142 points coming Wednesday in a rout of Brooklyn.

And time is slipping away. Miami has 19 games left, and it currently is mired in seventh in the Eastern Conference - meaning, if the season ended today, any Heat postseason hopes would first hinge on getting out of the play-in tournament.

“It’s an up-and-down season,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “As you can see, it’s been up-and-down this whole season. Can’t really explain that. It’s more that we just have to find that right niche - and we haven’t found it yet.” ---