What’s behind Heat’s fourth-quarter issues early this season? Also, the updated injury report

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The Miami Heat’s fourth-quarter issues popped up again, but this time the Heat was still able to hold on for the win. So Heat coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t want to focus on what went wrong just minutes after a positive outcome against the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday.

“There were a lot more good things in this game than negatives,” Spoelstra said following the Heat’s narrow 108-107 win over the Lakers on Monday night as Kaseya Center to close its three-game homestand at 2-1. “I’m not going to be a downer about this one. It’s a good win. Obviously, we have to clean up some things.”

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Most of the things that need to be cleaned up are happening in the fourth quarter, as the Heat (3-4) has now been outscored in the final period in six of the first seven games of the season. Even including the one fourth quarter the Heat won, it has been outscored by a total of 44 points in the final period this season.

In Monday’s one-point win, the Lakers won the fourth quarter 28-18 to nearly escape with a comeback victory. The Heat led by as many as 12 points in the fourth quarter and found itself ahead by 10 points with 4:15 to play, but shot an inefficient 6 of 18 (33.3 percent) from the field and 1 of 9 (11.1 percent) from three-point range while committing nine turnovers in the final period to nearly give away the game.

“It was more the decision making at the end,” Spoelstra said of the Heat’s fourth-quarter issues on Monday against the Lakers. “I thought we got organized and got into the right stuff. We just have to continue to make the right reads.”

While it’s still early in the season and the sample size is very small, this unfortunate late-game trend is worth monitoring after the Heat established itself as one of the NBA’s best fourth-quarter teams last season.

The Heat played 54 clutch games (one that has a margin of five points or fewer inside the final five minutes of the fourth quarter) last regular season, second-most in the NBA behind 55 from the Dallas Mavericks. Miami finished 32-22 in those clutch games.

The Heat also tied the single-season NBA record for the most wins by five points or less with 24 such victories last regular season.

That success in close games came because the Heat posted the NBA’s fourth-best net rating in fourth quarters last regular season, outscoring teams by 4.8 points per 100 possessions behind the 15th-best fourth-quarter offense and second-best fourth-quarter defense.

Through the first seven games this season, the Heat entered Tuesday with the NBA’s worst net rating in the fourth quarter. Opponents have outscored the Heat by an absurd 25.3 points per 100 possessions in the final period in large part because Miami has the league’s second-worst fourth-quarter offense but also because the fourth-quarter defense (ranked 18th) has not been elite like last season.

“I just think we get off to a slow start in the beginning of the fourth and they get kind of in a groove and we’re trying to figure it out as they’re still going on their runs,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “So the biggest thing for us when we get to the fourth quarter is really hone in, have a real conversation and stop letting this happen.”

A few of those poor starts to fourth quarters have come with the Heat’s two best players in Adebayo and Jimmy Butler on the bench. Spoelstra’s rotation early this season has often had Adebayo and Butler not in the game to begin the final period, opting to instead bring Adebayo in around the 10-minute mark of the quarter and Butler in around the seven-minute mark of the quarter.

But the Heat has also been dominated late in games when Adebayo and Butler are on the court together. Miami has been outscored by 44.1 points per 100 possessions in the 33 minutes that Adebayo and Butler have been on the court together in the fourth quarter this season.

Throw in guard Tyler Herro into the mix, and the Heat has been outscored by 37.5 points per 100 possessions in the 31 minutes that Adebayo, Butler and Herro have been on the court together in the fourth quarter this season.

“Give us enough time, that Big 3 is going to be a problem,” Spoelstra said, referring to the Heat’s leading trio of Adebayo, Butler and Herro. “They’re already working diligently to figure this out. They complement each other, which is great. The most important thing is this year it’s really clicking for them to understand that they’re the key to this team. We have so many X factors on this team, guys that really can make a difference. But they’re the ones, those three guys, their collaboration, their competitive will, they’re going to be the reason for our ultimate success.”

One quick fix for the Heat’s fourth-quarter problem is to simply start making more shots.

Adebayo (6 of 18 from field), Butler (5 of 17 from field) and Herro (12 of 39 from field) have combined to shoot an inefficient 23 of 74 (31.1 percent) from the field in the the fourth quarter this season.

The rest of the Heat’s roster has actually made a higher percentage of its shots, combining to shoot 34 of 76 (44.7 percent) from the field in the final period this season.

As a team, the Heat is shooting only 38 percent from the field and 18 of 62 (29 percent) from three-point range in the fourth quarter while dishing out 38 assists to 30 turnovers.

“I think we just got to continue to push the pace,” said Heat guard Kyle Lowry, who hasn’t scored a fourth-quarter point this season despite logging a total of 35 minutes in the final period through the first seven games. “We got to stay locked in to what we’ve done the first 3.5 quarters and just continue to play the same way. If it comes down to the last three or four minutes, then we can kind of slow it down. But I think our pace is the reason we got the lead and we just got to continue to play that way.”

Whatever the reason is behind the Heat’s late-game struggles early this season, coaches and players know they must find solutions sooner rather than later, especially with nine of the Heat’s next 10 games coming on the road.

“No better place to do it than on the road,” Spoelstra said, with the Heat set to open a four-game trip on Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum (8 p.m., Bally Sports Sun). “It’s going to catch our attention, that’s for sure. Basically the better part of this month, we’re gone. So we have an eight-day trip. Come back for two days, 48 hours. Then back out for nine days. Buckle up. This is not for the weak.”

BAM’S BIG NIGHT

Adebayo led the Heat to Monday’s win over the Lakers behind a dominant triple-double performance that included 22 points on 9-of-20 shooting from the field, 20 rebounds and 10 assists to go along with two steals and two blocks.

It marked the seventh triple-double performance of Adebayo’s NBA career, including one he had during last season’s playoffs.

It also marks the first 20-point, 20-rebound triple-double in Heat history. Adebayo is the fifth player in NBA history to finish a game with at least 20 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists, two steals and two blocks, joining a list that also includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Chris Webber, DeMarcus Cousins and Nikola Jokic.

“He really willed us,” Spoelstra said of Adebayo following Monday’s win over the Lakers. “In those moments of truth, he was the voice in the huddles. He was holding everybody to a higher standard, demanding more particularly on the defensive end of the floor. That’s leadership. Not just the voice, but doing it with all the big muscle stuff. 20 on the glass is, I don’t know how many have done a 20-rebound triple-double. That’s just tremendous. That’s why he’s the heartbeat.”

LOVE FROM LEBRON

After Monday’s loss dropped Lakers superstar LeBron James to 2-7 in games he has played against the Heat in Miami since he left the organization in 2014, James had some kind words for his former organization.

“For me, it’s always great to come back and play in a building where I have so many memories, and then go against one of my favorite coaches of all-time in Spo,” James said.

“It’s always great. They’ve done it the right way here for years and years and years. Obviously, starting with Pat [Riley], and Micky [Arison], and obviously now Spo has taken the reins and done what he needs to do. Everybody that’s come through here understands what it’s all about and they continue to do it the right way. So, it’s pretty cool to be back.”

INJURY REPORT

The Heat ruled out Cole Swider (G League, two-way contract), Nikola Jovic (non-COVID illness), Caleb Martin (left knee tendinosis), Jamal Cain (non-COVID illness) and RJ Hampton (G League, two-way contract) for Wednesday’s matchup against the Grizzlies.

Martin, who will miss his seventh consecutive game, traveled with the team on Tuesday to Memphis for the start of the Heat’s four-game trip. Cain and Jovic did not travel with the team on Tuesday, but they hope to re-join the team at some point during the trip.

Butler is listed as probable to play on Wednesday with right knee tendinitis.