They sleepwalk through the first three quarters only to resemble the defending NBA champions in the fourth. And Tuesday was no different.
Only this time Ray Allen or LeBron James wasn't there to bail them out.
The Heat were unable to shake off another lethargic beginning in their 105-101 loss to the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center. The loss snapped Miami's six-game winning streak and marked the fifth straight time they were forced to play from behind.
"They did enough to deserve to win whether or not we hit some of our shots down the stretch or not," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We made a furious, competitive comeback in the fourth quarter like we had been doing … But I think we all learned a lesson. You can only go to the well so many times."
The Wizards, a team that began the season with 12 straight losses, played like a playoff contender. Despite the home crowd being full of Heat fans, Washington led by as many as 12 in the second half.
As the case all season, the Heat made a strong second-half push.
Unlike in the past, it wasn't enough.
The Heat had won three games in the closing seconds on 3-pointers by Allen. He was just 3 of 9 from the arc and finished with 11 points.
With Allen struggling, they turned to James in the pressure situation. He recorded the his first triple-double of the season, finishing with 26 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. Still, he will be mostly remembered for missing two free throws and an open 3-pointer that would have tied the game in the final two minutes.
Trailing 104-101, James misfired on a 3-pointer from the corner with 3.9 seconds remaining. The Wizards sealed it on the next possession when guard Jordan Crawford, who scored a team-high 22 points, hit two free throws.
Afterward, the Heat were kicking themselves for their poor first. The 60 first-half points by the Wizards were a season-high.
"We're an older bunch, so it takes us a little while to get into the flow of the game," James said. "We've got to find a way to start the games … We'll do a lot better job at that."
The Heat were fortunate to be that close after the way they played.
The Wizards had five players score in double-figures, including Kevin Seraphin (16) and guard A.J. Price (13). Seraphin repeatedly hurt the Heat on the inside, shooting 8 of 12 from the field.
The Wizards built a 71-59 lead on a jumpshot by Chris Singleton before things finally started going in the Heat's favor. Miami needed a big effort from its core after learning it would have to play without its top two point guards.
Norris Cole was ruled out before the game because of a groin injury and starter Mario Chalmers left with 6 minutes, 53 seconds remaining in the first half with a jammed finger. That left James and Dwyane Wade, who scored 24 points, as the primary ball-handlers.
"We played a great second half," Wade said. "The first half wasn't that great, besides the last four or five minutes. This is the kind of games we've been playing. It's nothing out of the ordinary for us. Shots that we made down the stretch, we weren't able to make. We got great looks. They did a great job. They played a 48-minute game to get this win. The credit goes to them."
Still, the Heat tied the score at 88 on Chris Bosh's basket but were unable to gain control They trailed nearly the entire way, holding their last lead of 16-15 with 5:09 left in the first quarter.
"It's not a lesson for us," James said. "We just lost. That's all it is. We've seen and been through everything. We just need to catch ourselves."