Heat in foul mood after Game 4 loss as knotted series shifts to Miami

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- After answering questions for several minutes, Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside wanted to ask one of his own to the handful of reporters who remained near his locker Monday night.

“I thought this was the playoffs,” Whiteside said. “Isn’t this supposed to be physical basketball? I thought the playoffs were more physical. This is the flop-offs, man. … I don’t even want to get on the calls. I got nothing to say. That’s crazy.”

As with most of his teammates and head coach, Whiteside was careful enough to at least attempt to temper his remarks in an effort to avoid potential fines from the NBA for complaints about the officiating. But it was clear throughout Monday’s 89-85 loss to Charlotte in Game 4 that the Heat were frustrated and thrown off their rhythm by foul trouble.

To explain why this best-of-seven playoff series is now tied up 2-2 heading back to Miami for Game 5 on Wednesday, look no further than Monday’s backcourt comparative breakdown.

Charlotte guards Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin combined for 55 points and 16 free throw attempts. Miami guards Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic together committed nine fouls and nine turnovers. In essence, through four games in this series, the Heat have proved to be two different teams. The version that throttled the Hornets in the first two games in Miami, racking up 238 points and setting or matching a few franchise records, was never given boarding passes for the trip to Charlotte.

The Heat team that played the past two games during a four-day stay in North Carolina struggled to score, routinely failed to protect the paint and made enough costly mistakes to get blown out in Game 3 on Saturday and squander chances to potentially steal Game 4 on Monday.

In the emotional and immediate aftermath of Monday’s loss, it was tough for Heat players to look beyond the 26 fouls Miami was assessed and how the Hornets capitalized by going 25-for-30 from the free throw line. But the Heat had far more problems than that, having seen a prolific offense basically sputter to a halt over the past two games.

Defensively, the Miami’s inability to protect the lane and slow Walker and Lin resulted in Charlotte owning a 96-58 edge in points in the paint in Games 3 and 4. Offensively, the Heat averaged just 82.5 points and shot only 35.9 percent from the field in large part because Wade’s shot was off and foul trouble took Dragic out of long stretches of both games.

“It felt more like throwback, old-school, Eastern Conference basketball,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the series. “Both teams [were] shooting under 40 percent, a lot of physical plays out there and [it was about] who could endure and make the last few plays. We’ve probably fouled more in these four games than we have in the last four weeks, but you have to give them credit. They’re aggressive.”

In Charlotte, Spoelstra’s rotation was in flux at best and, at worst, combustible. Normally reliable rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson have been erratic. Whiteside played Monday through a bruised right thigh that left his status questionable until just before the start of the game. It’s been a challenge to establish anything close to a consistent offensive rhythm for the Heat. As a result, Charlotte has scored 33 points off 32 Miami turnovers and has committed just 14 of its own that led to 11 Heat points.

“We’ve had some key guys in foul trouble,” Heat guard Joe Johnson said of Wade, Dragic and Whiteside. “For the most part, we were just trying to hold the fort until we can get those guys back out there. But it’s tough. We just kept fouling and kept putting them on the line. We have to make the game easier. The game has been so tough for us, especially in Charlotte. We have to make an adjustment.”

Johnson, who scored a team-high 16 points in Game 4, said the path back to establishing the offensive balance the Heat played with in the first two games of the series starts with trusting one another. Defensively, Johnson believes something must be tweaked to prevent Walker and Lin from getting into the lane as frequently as they have the past two games.

“We just have to be smarter,” Dragic said. “In the playoff games, when every position matters, you’re fighting through screens and so much stuff. Sometimes … it feels like they give us those penalties and on the other side there’s nothing. It’s tough. We understand it’s their home court. We lost by four points and we were there. We can get something positive from this. It was too many turnovers, though.”

Wade was at a loss when asked Monday night what specific adjustments in either game strategy or defensive technique might be necessary to avoid foul trouble moving forward in the series.

“It’s nothing we can do about that,” Wade said. “That’s not our call. We’re playing an aggressive game. It’s the playoffs, and we’re playing the way we’re supposed to. Hopefully, it’ll change.”

The scenery will change for certain as the Heat look to return to their comfort zone.

“The biggest thing I’d change is nothing,” Whiteside said of the series shifting back to Miami. “We just missed some shots. They’ve got to come to South Beach, and we’ve been playing well all year at home.”