Dec. 12--MIAMI -- The first 4 1/2 minutes were as good as it gets. Then came the other 43 1/2, and with that came the end of the Miami Heat's four-game winning streak.
Up 11-0 at the start with an aggressive, attacking defense and a free-flowing offense, the Heat then bogged down on both ends in what turned into an 87-73 loss Friday night to the Atlanta Hawks at AmericanAirlines Arena.
"We got a little bit too relaxed out there," rookie point guard Mario Chalmers said.
The lesson couldn't have been driven home any clearer: A team that relies on the singular scoring of Dwyane Wade can't afford even a temporary letdown, let alone sustained periods of passivity.
"We've got to play with energy and emotion," power forward Udonis Haslem said.
While the Heat lacked the scoring of rookie forward Michael Beasley, who was absent due to the flu, it hardly looked like the revived group that had its sights set on moving into possession of fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
"They took advantage of our misses and our laziness and made us pay," Wade said. "We just have to move on.
"We came out like we were supposed to, with a lot of energy. They didn't get rattled at all. They came back, made plays, and got back into the game."
Not only was Wade off with his shot on a 9-of-24, 21-point night, but the Heat's perimeter players consistently failed to cover the backcourt defensively.
That had Atlanta running to a 23-4 advantage on fastbreak points, fueled by a 53-37 rebounding advantage.
"We had some breakdowns on that," coach Erik Spoelstra said.
When the Heat couldn't catch up, it simply fouled, with Atlanta closing with a 24-4 scoring edge from the line. By contrast, the Heat was shockingly passive, with only Wade and brutish center Jamaal Magloire getting to the line.
"The disparity was earned, I thought, on their part," Spoelstra said.
Hawks coach Mike Woodson said it took a team approach against Wade.
"He's such a great scorer and great player that you're just not going to slow him down with one guy," he said. "He's such a tough player to guard.
"I thought we did a total team effort on him tonight. It had to be."
Entering the game, Spoelstra spoke of slippage in his team's defense, even during the four-game winning streak.
His players appeared to take heed, at least while racing to an 18-3 lead.
Then Atlanta showed why the Heat is strictly considered second tier in the Southeast Division, with guard Joe Johnson scoring 21 points as Atlanta won for only the third time in its last 24 appearances in South Florida, despite shooting only .386.
"Our energy was great, things were running great for us," Spoelstra said, "and then it turned."
And when it did, there was no turning back for the Heat.
"To come out of the gates like we did, it's frustrating," forward Shawn Marion said. "We had them right where we wanted them.
"We just let them back into the game. They lulled us to sleep. Everything was kind of slow and lethargic out there."
Ira Winderman can be reached at iwinderman@SunSentinel.com
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