At a time they should be fine-tuning their game for another championship run, the Miami Heat instead are looking nothing like a team ready to make a run for a third consecutive NBA title. Far from it.
Coach Eric Spoelstra continues to tinker with his rotation, using Michael Beasley in some spots, Udonis Haslem in others and even starting recently acquired Toney Douglas when the situation calls for all-star Dwyane Wade to rest.
But recently nothing seems to work.
Since pulling even with Indiana in the “lost” column in the Eastern Conference race when the Pacers lost to Golden State back on March 4, the Heat have won only four of their 11 outings.
Thanks to the Pacers’ own struggles, the Heat have fallen only two games back in the “lost column” in the race for the top playoff seed in the East. The Heat have a 47-21 record going into Monday night’s home game against Portland. The Pacers are 51-19 going to Chicago to take on the Bulls tonight.
Those games will serve as preludes to the first of two remaining Heat-Pacers contests coming up in Indianapolis Wednesday night (8, ET, ESPN). The two meet again in Miami on April 11.
Perhaps facing that kind of challenge will wake up the Heat, who have a history of responding to adversity. But their recent play is little evidence they are up to it.
They certainly aren’t expressing much in the way of confidence.
Following Saturday night’s 105-95 loss to the Pelicans in New Orleans, LeBron James said he was tired of hearing excuses for the Heat’s play.
“We’ve got to own up to what we’re doing right now,” he said, “and what we’re doing right now ain’t good enough.”
Frustration does seem to have set in.
“We’ve all got to get on the same page,” James said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’ve got to figure it out.”
James as been in an offensive slump since scoring a franchise-record 61 points in a win over Charlotte back on March 3, averaging 22.8 points a game in 10 appearances since then. He sat out one game because of back spasms.
But he isn’t the only one of the much-heralded Big Three that has struggled over the Heat’s last 11 games. Wade has missed two games to protect his knees and has averaged 18.3 points in nine outings.
Chris Bosh has averaged 16.9 points, which is right at his season average of 16.6, but his output has varied from five points in a loss to Houston and six in a defeat at Boston to 24 in a losses to San Antonio and Brooklyn.
The problem at the defensive end, however, may be even more serious. The Pelicans shot 51.2 percent from their field in their win over the Heat just three nights after the Celtics shot 50.6 percent in their victory.
Even Cleveland, one of the poorest shooting teams in the league (43.0 percent) shot 51.4 percent against the Heat, though the Heat managed to pull out the 100-96 victory. And the Rockets were one made field goal away in their loss at Miami from making it four teams in five games to shoot better than 50 per cent against the Heat.
“This is new territory for us,” coach Erik Spoelstra said after the loss at New Orleans. “It doesn’t make it right or wrong, good or bad. This is what we’re dealing with.
“This is how you develop championship character. You have to go through things sometimes, and sometimes they come at unpredictable times.
“We all know we have to play much better, much more committed defensively. That’s really the deal.”
The good news is that there is still time for the Heat to get things going again. With three-plus weeks left in the regular season, they have 14 games remaining, including tonight's affair.
The bad news is that after hosting the Trail Blazers, the Heat are back on the road for their next three games before getting five in a row at home.
Also, some of the teams fighting for the final spots in the Eastern playoff race are showing some feistiness in recent outings, a sign the Heat aren’t likely to have the same kind of stroll through the early rounds they have had in recent seasons.
Thus it would behoove the Heat to get their act together before those playoffs begin.