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Heat prove lacking without Jimmy Butler, fall 128-120 to Thunder

MIAMI – The fine line the Miami Heat have been walking in the absence of Jimmy Butler turned into too much of a high-wire act Wednesday night.

Against one of the league’s emerging teams, there was neither enough deterrence nor a closer to take control late.

The result was a 128-120 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder that dropped the Heat to 1-1 on this four-game homestand that continues Friday night against the Orlando Magic.

Standing as the ultimate face of youth in the NBA, the Thunder got 28 points and eight assists from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 23 points and nine rebounds from Chet Holmgren and 19 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds from Jalen Williams.

Unable to contain the Thunder either in man-to-man or zone, the Heat fell despite 25 points, 11 rebounds and six assists from Bam Adebayo, a career-high 19 points from Haywood Highsmith. 21 points from Jaime Jaquez Jr. and 17 points from Tyler Herro.

The Thunder closed at .593 from the field.

In addition to Butler, the Heat also were without Kyle Lowry and Caleb Martin.

Five Degrees of Heat from Wednesday night’s game:

1. Closing time: The Heat led 35-29 at the end of the first period and 69-65 at halftime. The Thunder then went on a 13-0 run to start the third period and went into the fourth up 99-96, after nine lead changes in the third.

As was the case at the start of the second half, the Thunder began to distance themselves at the start of the fourth quarter, leading to an Erik Spoelstra timeout 1:25 into the period.

It further crumbled from there, as the Heat reverted to their fourth-quarter struggles, with Spoelstra again forced to call time with the Heat down 112-97 with 7:14 to play.

The Heat scored the first six points out of that timeout to move within 112-103 and force a Thunder timeout.

Later, a 10-0 run got the Heat within 126-120 with 68 seconds to play after a pair of Jaquez 3-pointers. Herro then had a chance to make it a 3-point game with 44.2 seconds to play but was off on a fading 3-pointer, effectively ending it.

2. Another lineup: After missing three games while in concussion protocol and then playing in Monday night’s victory over the Houston Rockets as a reserve, Highsmith returned to the starting lineup.

With Butler, Lowry and Martin out, the Heat wound up with their 20th lineup of the season, this time opening with Highsmith, Adebayo, Herro, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Nikola Jovic.

Butler missed his fifth consecutive game with a right toe MP joint sprain. Lowry was out with the hand sprain sustained Monday against the Rockets. Martin missed his seventh consecutive game with a sprained right ankle.

3. Highsmith impact: Highsmith hit two early 3-pointers, with eight points in his initial 10:56 stint and was the first Heat player to reach double digits in scoring.

He was up to a team-high 13 points at halftime and 19 through three quarters. His previous season high had been 15 and his career high had been 18.

Perhaps more significantly, he provided stout defense early against Gilgeous-Alexander, on a night the Heat were limited in their perimeter defensive options.

4. Not enough: Unlike other nights when Herro and Adebayo helped the Heat overcome the absence of Butler, this was not one of those nights.

Herro struggled with his 3-point shot and required a high shooting volume to reach his final scoring total. He closed 7 of 21 from the field, including 1 of 5 on 3-pointers.

Adebayo missed several point-blank attempts and largely was outplayed by Holmgren. Adebayo closed 9 of 16 from the field, 7 of 7 from the line.

5. Jovic again: Jovic again showed his craftiness, showing a variety of skills on the offensive end, from his bustout dribble, to clever play in the lane to a pull-up 3-pointer.

He was up to 12 points by halftime, with nine in the second quarter. He then earned the trust of Spoelstra to play fourth-quarter minutes.

Jovic closed with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists.

When Martin returns, Spoelstra will face a decision between Highsmith, Jovic and Martin.