The first thing the Miami Heat will need when it comes to exploring the possibilities of Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson as their starting power rotation will be a better whistle.
Because with Johnson forced to the bench just 22 seconds into the second half Wednesday night's 117-105 loss to the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center, Erik Spoelstra latest Heat lineup combination essentially was put on hold.
It was all good at the outset, with Johnson scoring nine points in the opening period and the Heat building an early eight-point lead.
But then came the tweet sound of lack of lineup success, the Spurs eventually pressing their pedigree in the fourth quarter, leading to the Heat's fourth loss in five games, despite a season-high 25 points from Tyler Johnson, 22 from Dion Waiters and 19 from Josh Richardson.
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The Spurs won for the sixth time in seven games, with scoring balance throughout their rotation, enough to offset the Heat's 18-of-34 3-point shooting.
Spoelstra shuffled his lineup against the Spurs' length, opening with Kelly Olynyk at center and James Johnson at power forward, rounded out by previous starters Goran Dragic, Waiters and Richardson.
The degree of permanency with the grouping will be limited to the length of the absence of center Hassan Whiteside, who missed his fourth consecutive game with the latest bone bruise on his left knee, not traveling on this three-game trip that continues Saturday in Mexico City against the Brooklyn Nets and concludes Monday against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Spurs continued to play with a makeshift lineup of their own, with All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard yet to make his season debut, due to a quadriceps injury. That had Rudy Gay opening at small forward for San Antonio in place of previous replacement starter
Kyle Anderson, who now is out with a knee injury.
In addition, Spurs reserve guard Manu Ginobili briefly went to the locker room in the first quarter due to a sore knee.
In what had mostly been a back-and-forth game through three quarters, the Spurs took the game's first double-digit lead, at 97-87, early in the final period on a Gay 3-pointer. Prior to that score, the Spurs at one point had held a nine-point lead and the Heat and eight-point lead.
Even with Tyler Johnson up to 21 points by that stage and Waiters at 16, the Heat went into the fourth quarter down 86-82, at 0-10 entering the night when trailing at the end of the third period.
Spurs reserve guard Bryn Forbes, 5 of 5 on 3-pointers to the stage, was up to 17 points entering the final period.
At 9 of 18 from beyond the arc over the first two periods, the Heat moved to a 58-57 halftime lead, with Tyler Johnson up to 11 points by that stage and Dragic with six assists at the intermission.
The Heat pushed to a 35-27 lead going into the second period, with James Johnson up to nine points by that stage.
The Heat shot 6 of 10 on 3-pointers in the opening period, with their first five attempts of the night coming from beyond the arc.
It was not exactly the start expected, with the Heat entering 27th in the league in scoring and the Spurs entering second in the league in defense.
The Spurs won the first game of the two-game season series 117-100 Oct. 25 at AmericanAirlines Arena, led by Pau Gasol's 31 points and 22 off the bench from Gay. The Heat also were without center Whiteside for that game.
The Spurs entered having won eight in a row from the Heat, seeking to sweep the two-game series for the fourth consecutive season. The Heat entered having lost six of their previous seven visits.
The Heat were coming off Sunday's 123-95 loss to the Warriors. The Spurs were coming off Monday's 96-93 victory over the Pistons.