Not only are the struggling Miami Heat the Eastern Conference’s worst team, but they haven’t beaten another East team all month.
Coming off a Christmas Day loss, the Heat will look to snap a six-game slide in conference play when they visit the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday at the Wachovia Center.
A loss to the Sixers (11-16) would make it more than a month since Miami (8-20) last beat an East team, on Nov. 27 at home against Charlotte. The Heat, who host Orlando on Friday, are 4-4 against Western teams over the span, but just 3-13 overall in conference, just two seasons removed from winning the East and going on to beat Dallas in the NBA Finals.
Now, after losing 96-82 to Cleveland on Christmas, they’re the lone Eastern Conference team with 20 losses. They’ve lost three of four overall, losing twice in overtime and leading the Cavaliers 53-43 in the third quarter before melting down at the end.
“As soon as things go badly, instead of just buckling down, and everybody stepping up, there is a frustration switch that goes on,” Miami coach Pat Riley said.
Against the Cavs, they got plenty of opportunities at the free throw line but shot a woeful 54.3 percent (19-of-35).
Dwyane Wade contributed to the poor mark, shooting just 8-of-16 from the line. Wade’s scoring average (24.2 points) is three points down from the previous two seasons, Udonis Haslem has just six points in each of the last two games and Shaquille O’Neal had to be pulled from the Cleveland game with nearly seven minutes left to avoid fouling out for the sixth consecutive game, which would have matched an NBA record.
Miami also had 19 turnovers, including 10 in the third quarter, when it scored just 14 points.
“We were very, very careless with the ball,” O’Neal said. “Our defense loosened up a little bit and they were able to score a lot in the paint. As soon as we’re able to take care of those things, maybe we can become a pretty good team.”
The Sixers have looked a little more like a good team lately, winning six of their last nine, including a 99-97 win at Memphis Saturday. In that game, Andre Miller had a season-high 29 points and Andre Iguodala hit a shot at the buzzer to give the Sixers the win.
Philadelphia trailed by seven points after three quarters before Iguodala scored 17 of his 23 points in the fourth to spark the comeback.
“I thought the whole game we were on our heels,” Philadelphia coach Maurice Cheeks said. ” … The latter part of the third quarter we started chipping away and chipping away, and then in the fourth quarter, we got some more.”
The teams haven’t met this season, but Philadelphia took three of four from Miami last season, including both home games. The Sixers, however, have lost their last two at home and are just 6-9 at the Wachovia Center this season.