In the space of roughly 48 hours this week, the Miami Heat went from a team looking ready to take on the world to one that looked like it is bound for the lottery.
As impressive as the Heat were in routing a San Antonio team that was without three key players (guard/forward Danny Green, guard Kawhi Leonard, and center Tiago Splitter), they were equally depressing in getting routed two nights later by an Oklahoma City club that also was missing a star (guard Russell Westbrook).
In the 113-101 win over the Spurs Monday night, the Heat led the entire game, at one point sitting on a 29-point cushion before the visitors made the final margin a more respectable 12 points by outscoring the Heat 30-22 in the final period.
“There’s no running away from it,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said in opening his post-game press conference. “Other than the first eight minutes of the game, they outclassed us tonight. They absolutely deserved this win.”
The split of the two games against the teams the Heat have defeated in the NBA Finals in each of the two years (San Antonio in 2013, the Thunder in 2012) gave the Heat a mediocre 8-6 record for the month of January.
Included in that stretch were the first three-game losing streak of the season for the Heat, an embarrassing 114-97 loss at Washington in which they trailed the Wizards by 34 points in the second quarter, and a 121-114 loss in Atlanta in which they gave up 71 points in the first half and allowed the Hawks to shoot 58.1 percent from the field.
All negative numbers and illustrative of the point that, as Spoelstra said, the Heat “have some work to do.”
And it will have to be done mostly on the road. Starting with a visit to New York’s Madison Square Garden to take on the Knicks Saturday night (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Heat will play seven of their next eight games on their opponents’ courts.
After the Knicks, the Heat get the Pistons in Miami, then play six in a row on the road before finishing February at home against the Chicago Bulls and the Knicks. Included in there is a rematch with the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
It’s a tough stretch and not conducive to helping the Heat catch the Indiana Pacers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference to earn the home-court advantage through at least the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Before pushing the panic button, however, it’s worth remembering that before starting their run to the 2012 NBA title, the Heat were only 9-7 to finish the regular season.
They then lost two of the first three games of their second-round playoff series with the Pacers, including a 19-point thumping when the series shifted to Indiana, and trailed Boston three games to two in the Eastern Conference finals before winning Game 6 in Boston and Game 7 in Miami.
And they started the 2012 Finals with an 11-point loss to the Thunder after leading by seven points at the half. When the series came to Miami after their Game 2 win, the Heat won three in a row for the title.
The point is that as bad as it may have looked, and it did look bad, the loss to the Thunder, much like the win over the Spurs, will carry little weight in two months. It’s January after all.