SALT LAKE CITY — The Miami Heat had already endured enough injury from a falling object—specifically the round ball that, when released from Jazz hands, kept falling through the net. But this was even more of an annoyance, the streamers drifting down from the rafters and onto their frowning faces, with Norris Cole among those swatting them off their shoulders before storming through the tunnel.
"Does that happen every game?" Chris Bosh asked of the celebration.
Not every one.
"Not every game?" Bosh said. "Just get the streamers, make sure they have streamers, huh? You get used to it, man."
Just as Heat fans have gotten used to seeing this from their squad, when in the NBA's slums.
Miami now has 14 losses, and 10 of those are against teams that ended Saturday night with losing records. Compare that to Indiana. The Pacers have lost 10 games, but just three against losing teams.
While the Pacers have walloped the worst, the Heat have wobbled.
And so, when we look back at how the East was won—at least in the regular season—we'll look back at places like Sacramento and Salt Lake City.
"We did not take them lightly," LeBron James insisted. "We do not take anyone lightly."
Heat fans might get into a light argument with their superstar about that. Those fans commonly contend that no opponent can beat this team four times out of seven. That may be so. But that's only because the Kings, Jazz, Celtics and 76ers figure to be planning their draft parties by then.
"You go through these, you go losses on the road that, record-wise, people think you shouldn't lose," Dwyane Wade said. "But you know, you do. And it builds character."
It certainly builds a bigger wall between Miami and the top seed, if that was ever an objective.
"It's frustrating at times," Bosh said of the setbacks against motivated non-contenders. "I mean, man, I thought we contested a lot of shots tonight, and they hit them right over us, like we weren't even there."
That was true late, in the shot clock and in the contest, when veterans Marvin Williams (23 points) and Richard Jefferson (14 points) played above their recent pedigree. But it was what happened early—lazy rotations and rim rotation—that gave the Jazz, which came in with a 16-33 record and off a blowout in Dallas, some rhythm and confidence.
"Obviously, they played better than us in the first quarter," Wade said, on a night that the Jazz led by 14 after the first 11 minutes. "That's nothing new. A lot of teams play better than us in the first quarter."
Here's what was new Saturday: James was quite a bit less than lethal. Over the previous four games, he had made 12, 13, nine and 11 field goals.
Against Utah, in a building where he had historically scored at a higher rate than any other, he scored four. Just three in the first half, one in the third quarter, and none in the fourth, when he took only two shots.
Four field goals, five turnovers.
"I had four turnovers in the third quarter, and it was all careless ones," James said. "It was killing me, got me out of rhythm."
That's one of two trends he needs to reverse: his turnover average has ticked up from 3.0 last season to 3.5 this season.
"I'm seeing the right play, just guys are getting their hands on them," James said. "Especially at the end of the third, I saw Norris right open by their bench, when we were down two, and a regular old skip pass, and Jeremy Evans stole it out of the air. And (Gordon) Hayward got his hand on two of them, you know, high hands. It's frustrating."
The other trend?
He's been having trouble from 3-point range.
Saturday, he was 1-for-6. He was 0-for-4 on other jumpers outside of five feet.
"We had some great looks, including myself," James said.
He did, but he couldn't connect.
Through the end of November, he was shooting 49.1 percent from deep.
He shot 35.1 percent in December.
He shot 27.5 percent in January.
He is shooting 26.3 percent in February.
That's pulled him down from 40.6 last season to 36.3 percent this season.
"Yeah, I've been shooting them," James said. "Obviously, they haven't been going in. But I feel comfortable every time I take one. Just got to knock them down. I've gotten in a little funk from behind the three-point line, but I'll get back to it."
Even if he doesn't, expect him to get back to form in other ways in Phoenix on Tuesday. That tends to be his typical response to a clunker.
"You have some," James said. "It happens once or twice a year. I'll take those odds. We just figure it out the next game."
No, the sky's not falling.
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