Free throw shooting a huge problem for sluggish Heat
MIAMI (AP) Shaquille O'Neal is coming back to Miami this week, about to be the third former Heat player to have his number retired and raised to the rafters of the team's arena.
Perhaps he can offer some foul-shooting tips while he's in town.
For as notoriously bad as O'Neal was from the foul line - 53 percent for his career - he never played for a team that shot free throws as poorly as the Heat have so far this season. Miami is connecting on 66.2 percent of its foul shots, by far the worst rate in the NBA, on pace for the worst such season in team history and one of the reasons why the Heat are off to a 9-19 start.
''I would say it's all mental,'' said Heat guard Goran Dragic, the team's leading scorer at 19.1 points per game and best free-throw shooter at 81 percent. ''You need to be focused on the free-throw line. Not only in games, but in practice. Don't just go to the line and shoot them, shoot them visualizing the way you would shoot them in the game. And then it's probably going to be a much better percentage.''
The Heat were 14 for 25 from the line in Sunday's 10-point loss to Boston, and missed eight in the fourth quarter alone.
This is how bad things are for the Heat at the line: If they were to make their next 562 free throws, that still wouldn't push their shooting percentage past San Antonio for the top spot in the NBA right now.
''We're working at it,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ''We still have chances.''
Miami has had eight games in which it's failed to make even 60 percent of its free throws this season, a league-high - and already one more than the Heat had in all of the 2015-16 season.
Maybe most baffling is this: The Heat are making only 63.9 percent of their foul shots at home, 7 percent worse than any other team in the league. Miami hasn't been a great shooting team from anywhere - 24th in 2-point shooting, 28th in 3-point shooting this season - but the foul-shot problems are particularly frustrating.
''Got to make free throws,'' Heat forward Justise Winslow said.
Hassan Whiteside had a strong second half to get his percentage up to 65 percent last season; he's at 53 percent so far this season. Winslow was a 68 percent shooter last season, and is down to 61 percent this season. He's 6 for 14 from the line since returning from a sore left wrist - his shooting wrist - yet offered no excuses, even after missing four in Sunday's loss.
''No one's guarding you,'' Winslow said. ''Me, myself, my teammates, just got to make free throws. There's not anything super-complicated about it. Just got to make your free throws.''
NOTES: The Heat announced that Wayne Ellington (right hamstring strain) will miss his second consecutive game on Tuesday, when Miami plays host to Orlando. ... Rodney McGruder (left ankle sprain) is questionable for Tuesday.