MIAMI -- For the Miami Heat, this may have been rock bottom.
On a day when coach Pat Riley deactivated two forwards whose body fat readings aren't within team parameters, then began an indefinite leave of absence because of knee and hip problems, the defending NBA champions continued their free-fall.
"We caught a team that was really short-handed," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "This was a game we were supposed to win and our guys played well."
Jason Kapono had 19 points for Miami (13-18), which is five games under .500 for the first time this season and opens a six-game Western Conference road swing in Phoenix on Friday night. Alonzo Mourning scored 16, as did rookie Robert Hite for the Heat, who allowed the Clippers to shoot 61 percent.
"It wasn't a very good effort on our part," Heat interim coach Ron Rothstein said. "We can do better than that and we need to do better than that. We'll work hard to do better than that. That's not acceptable. Take nothing away from the Clippers, but you just can't let people shoot in your face all night."
Riley announced four hours before tipoff that he'll undergo surgery Friday to remove floating chips in his right knee. He's then expected to schedule hip surgery once he recovers from the first procedure, and has no timetable for a return to coaching.
Riley's absence, combined with the pregame deactivation of forwards Antoine Walker and James Posey over their failure to meet team body-fat standards, only added to the dark cloud hovering over the Heat.
"It felt terrible out there," Heat center Michael Doleac said. "I got negative. I got down. And that's not right. You've got to fight that and stay positive as best you can and do whatever you can to win. Ridiculous. We're playing basketball. It's supposed to be fun, but the air around us is bad right now."
In Riley's absence, Rothstein takes over. He was the franchise's first coach, leading the Heat for their opening three expansion seasons from 1988 through 1991.
He didn't have much talent to work with in those days.
He doesn't have the Heat's full arsenal now, either.
Miami played again without center Shaquille O'Neal, who has been in only four games because of an injured knee. Finals MVP Dwyane Wade missed his third straight game with a sprained wrist, and neither Walker nor Posey will travel to Phoenix because of the conditioning mandates.
Add forward Wayne Simien, out indefinitely while recovering from a recurring case of salmonella, into the mix and the Heat had only 10 players in uniform Wednesday.
And the Clippers happily exploited Miami's depth issues.
"We prepared as if Wade and those guys were playing, just in case," Brand said.
Brand and Kaman combined to make their first 10 shots -- both were 5-for-5 before Brand missed a jumper over Doleac with 14 seconds left in the opening quarter -- but the opening period ended tied at 29, even with the Clippers shooting 68 percent from the floor.
The Clippers cooled a bit in the second quarter, shooting only 58 percent, but held Miami to 35 percent shooting and used an 11-0 run midway through the period to help build a 61-51 lead at halftime. The Heat missed nine of their final 13 shots of the half, including a pair from close range that left Mourning staring in disbelief at the rim as intermission started.
It didn't get much better for Miami in the third, as the Clippers opened on a 13-4 run. And by quarter's end, while the Clippers continued pulling away, some of those who remained in the sellout crowd booed as the Heat fell to 8-9 at home.
"As a professional basketball team, that's unacceptable," Rothstein said.
|Ron Rothstein's second stint as the Heat coach begins in an unmemorable fashion. (Getty Images)|
|L.A. Clippers (15-17) «||29||32||30||19||110|
|LAC:E. Brand 28 Pts
LAC:C. Maggette 11 Reb
LAC:S. Livingston 9 Ast
|MIA:J. Kapono 19 Pts
MIA:A. Mourning 7 Reb
MIA:G. Payton 6 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|C. Kaman, C||43||9-12||2-2||6||1||5||20|
|Q. Ross, SF||42||6-9||1-2||6||4||4||13|
|C. Maggette, SG||40||7-19||2-5||11||2||2||16|
|E. Brand, PF||37||10-14||8-8||6||2||3||28|
|S. Livingston, PG||28||6-9||0-0||2||9||4||12|
|D. Ewing, PG||31||5-8||2-2||5||5||4||12|
|T. Thomas, SF||16||3-4||1-2||2||1||1||9|
|J. Singleton, PF||2||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|Y. Korolev, SF||1||0-1||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|S. Cassell, PG||Did Not Play|
|A. Williams, C||Did Not Play|
|C. Mobley, SG||Did Not Play|
|Z. Rebraca, C||Did Not Play|
|P. Davis, C||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|U. Haslem, PF||34||4-12||0-0||7||2||4||8|
|J. Kapono, SF||31||7-10||2-2||3||3||1||19|
|A. Mourning, C||30||7-10||2-4||7||2||2||16|
|J. Williams, PG||29||4-14||4-4||1||5||0||13|
|D. Wright, SF||21||3-3||0-0||5||0||1||6|
|G. Payton, PG||25||0-3||1-2||2||6||2||1|
|R. Hite, SG||20||6-14||2-3||3||0||0||16|
|E. Barron, C||19||3-12||0-0||4||0||2||6|
|C. Quinn, PG||19||3-6||1-1||1||5||0||8|
|M. Doleac, C||13||1-3||0-0||2||0||4||2|
|S. O'Neal, C||Did Not Play|
|A. Walker, PF||Did Not Play|
|J. Posey, SF||Did Not Play|
|D. Wade, PG||Did Not Play|
|W. Simien, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|