Injury issues beginning to take toll on Heat? Also, Josh Richardson on ‘terrible’ flopping calls

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At some point, injuries aren’t just an excuse anymore. At some point, injuries become the explanation for what’s happening.

But Miami Heat coaches and players don’t feel like they’ve reached that point yet, even after falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers 111-99 on Friday night at Kaseya Center for its fifth loss in the last seven games following a 10-5 start to the season.

Even after playing without three usual starters for the second straight game, as Bam Adebayo (left hip contusion), Tyler Herro (right ankle sprain) and Haywood Highsmith (lower back contusion) all missed Friday’s loss.

“It doesn’t matter who’s out there and who’s playing, who’s not,” Heat forward Caleb Martin said. “We know what we should be doing, we just got to be better.”

How a strength turned into a weakness for Heat, and other takeaways from loss to Cavaliers

The good news for the Heat (12-10) is it enters one of the softest weeks in its schedule, with two consecutive games against the struggling Charlotte Hornets (7-13) on Monday in Charlotte and on Wednesday in Miami followed by consecutive games against the struggling but suddenly hot Chicago Bulls (9-14) on Thursday and Saturday in Miami. The Heat will return to practice on Sunday at Kaseya Center before traveling to Charlotte to begin this stretch.

The bad news for the Heat is that, as it hovers around .500 at the 22-game mark, there remains no definitive timetable for the returns of Adebayo, Herro and Highsmith. But the hope is they all can return at some point in December, preferably sooner rather than later.

Adebayo has missed three straight games with a left hip contusion and six games this season because of the injury. Herro has missed 14 straight games since spraining his right ankle in a Nov. 8 road win over the Memphis Grizzlies. And Highsmith has sat out two straight games because of a lower back contusion after missing one game last week because of the same injury.

“At the end of the day, we definitely still have enough and we’ve shown we have enough,” Martin continued. “It doesn’t help whenever you have turnovers and you miss shots or you don’t execute or you don’t get back in transition. There are things during the game that are costly. Obviously, it’s costly always having injuries and stuff like that. But we always have enough and we’ve shown that. We just got to be better with the group that we have and we typically are.”

The Heat feels like injuries weren’t the reason for Friday’s loss to the Cavaliers, instead the team pointed to sloppy play.

The Heat, which entered the game with the league’s sixth-lowest turnover percentage (percentage of plays that end in a team’s turnover) at 13 percent, turned in an uncharacteristically messy performance with 18 turnovers and was outscored 22-12 in points off turnovers. The Heat committed turnovers on 18 percent of its possessions on Friday, falling to 2-4 this season when committing more turnovers than its opponent.

Rare off nights for Jimmy Butler and Duncan Robinson didn’t help Miami. Butler finished with 16 inefficient points on 5-of-15 shooting from the field and Duncan Robinson scored a season-low one point while missing all six of his three-point attempts.

“If you did turnovers throughout the course of the game, bobbles, missed catches, missed dribbles, it probably was 35,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That just kind of sets the tone, but gets you disjointed, gets everybody out of rhythm and we just couldn’t overcome that. I thought there were some decent things defensively throughout the course of the game. But not even scoring 100 points, granted they’re a good defense, but that’s not going to get it done.”

It’s worth noting that the Cavaliers were also short-handed on Friday against the Heat, missing starter Evan Mobley and leading bench scorer Caris LeVert because of injuries.

“There’s stuff that we all know that we’re capable of and that we should be doing,” Martin said. “There’s principles with certain things, there’s schemes with certain things that we all should be doing. So we have the blueprint, we just got to be better executing it.”

But the bottom line is the Heat has used a league-leading 14 different starting lineups this season and Miami’s leading trio of Adebayo, Butler and Herro have all been available for just six of the first 22 games.

The Heat holds the NBA’s 13th-ranked offensive rating and 13th-ranked defensive rating. Those mediocre rankings paired with Miami’s mediocre record is not where the Heat wants to be, but the hope is those numbers will get better when the roster is closer to full health.

Even if Heat coaches and players don’t want to use injuries as an excuse.

“I think our team has a lot of depth,” Heat reserve guard Josh Richardson said. “But I think not having Tyler for however many weeks has been tough for us. Bam is pretty much the anchor of the team. So not having him for the last few has been tough.”

Heat veteran Kevin Love also complimented the team’s bench, but added “we need to get healthy. We’re kind of struggling with a battle of attrition right now, guys in and out of the lineup.

FLOP OR NOT A FLOP

The usually even-keeled Richardson was not happy after Friday’s loss to the Cavaliers.

The defeat bothered him, but so did the fact that he was called for another flopping violation. It marked Richardson’s third called flop of the season just 22 games in.

Hours after Richardson was issued an after-the-fact $2,000 fine on Friday afternoon for what the NBA deemed an uncalled flop during Wednesday’s road win over the Toronto Raptors, he was called for a flop in the third quarter of Friday’s home loss to the Cavaliers.

Richardson picked up his third flopping violation while trying to pressure Cavaliers guard Darius Garland in the backcourt.

“I’m not usually one to worry about refs or comment on refs,” Richardson said. “But I do think all three of my flopping calls were terrible. I think that they’re just not doing a very good job of being realistic about it.”

Richardson’s first flop of the season came in a Nov. 3 home win over the Washington Wizards, when he fell to the ground after taking a shoulder from Wizards forward Danilo Gallinari while setting a screen on a Heat inbounds pass.

Richardson’s second flop of the season came in Wednesday’s road win over Raptors, when he was pressuring Raptors forward Scottie Barnes at mid-court.

“I think my first call, I set a screen on an inbounds pass,” Richardson said. “I was set, I pushed up five steps with two hands on the chest and I fell, and I got a flopping call. My second one, I’m guarding Scottie in Toronto, who’s a good player. I was into him, there was a straight arm and he’s 40 pounds heavier than me. So obviously, I’m going to fall. It’s tough. And today, I’m running full speed in one direction and I get a shoulder to the chest, so obviously I’m going to fall.”

The only one of the three that drew a $2,000 fine for Richardson was Wednesday’s because it’s the only one that went uncalled during the game. Flops called in real time result in the opposing team being awarded one free-throw attempt instead of a fine for the player called for the violation.

Under NBA guidelines, a flop is “a physical act that reasonably appears to be intended to cause the officials to call a foul on another player.” The new in-game flopping penalty was implemented this season on a one-year trial basis.

“I don’t know what it is,” Richardson said. “Maybe I just need to start running people over and stop falling or do something. But I don’t know, I think it’s terrible.”