Almost nothing had worked for the Heat when they played Tim Duncan and the Spurs in San Antonio lately. So they tried something a bit different this time.
In advance of their matchup on Thursday night, the Heat players and coaches were profuse in their praise of the team they had beaten in a memorable NBA Finals last summer. Shane Battier went so far as to call Duncan “the greatest power forward ever in my book.”
Flattery got them nowhere, either.
The Spurs led wire to wire in a 111-87 rout at the AT&T Center, as LeBron James remained winless in the regular season in San Antonio since he came to South Beach four years ago. Then again, James isn’t alone. The loss was the 23rd for the Heat in 26 games there.
“It shows you how fragile this league can be,” said head coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team lost for a second consecutive time on the heels of a eight-game win streak. “It can change very quickly.”
The Heat haven’t had a lead since James torched the Charlotte Bobcats for 61 points on Monday night. In the two games since then, he scored 41 points and missed all six of his three-point attempts.
As they did in the last NBA Finals, the Spurs invited James to shoot at the perimeter. Unlike Game 7, he was unable to drain those shots with any consistency.
“It’s the (law of) averages. I’m OK with that,” said James, who was limited to 19 points on 6 of 18 in the field. “I’ll look at the film and break it down. I missed some shots that I’m capable of making, some really, really good looks.”
James never looked comfortable in his protective mask and El Heat jersey, a sleeved model that both teams wore as part of a league-sponsored Latin Nights program. The veteran discarded the device that protected his broken nose in the first period, when he misfired on 5 of 6 field goal tries, but he had no choice except to wear the jersey.
“I’m not making any excuses, but I’m not a big fan of the jerseys,” James said. “Every time I shoot, it feels like it pulls right up under my (right) arm. I already don’t have much room for error on my jump shot, anyway. It’s definitely not a good thing.”
The Spurs had no such problems. They went off for 37 points in the first period and shot 51 percent in the field overall.
“Let’s not make this (defeat) out to be the jerseys, please,” Dwayne Wade told reporters. “We got our butts kicked.”
Duncan led a balanced attack with team-highs of 23 points and 11 rebounds. Tony Parker (17), Boris Diaw (16) and Kawhi Leonard (11) also scored in double figures.
Chris Bosh paced the Heat with a game-high 24 points, while Wade added 16 more. Michael Beasley pitched in 11 off the bench.
The Heat were on their heels from the start, especially at the defensive end, where they had been so effective since in recent weeks. The home team seized control of the game late in the first period, when it scored eight consecutive points to take a 30-16 advantage. Duncan converted a pair of free throws and a jump shot during the run.
The frustrated Heat finally boiled over in the midway through the fourth quarter, when Wade and Mario Chalmers were socked with technical fouls on the same play.
“On our last road trip, we really set the tone early on in games defensively,” Spoelstra said. “That hasn’t been the case the last two games. We have to wrap our arms around (the problem). We have to look at it, be honest with it, study it and fix it by Sunday.”
That’s when the Heat will meet the Chicago Bulls, who have been on a tear lately. The final leg of the three-game road trip doesn’t figure to be much easier.