MIAMI (AP) — Something is wrong with the Miami Heat. They just can’t seem to diagnose what the malady is.
And to them, that’s the worst part of this abysmal stretch.
Losers in five of their last six games, the first time they’ve been on a slide like that in three years, the Heat know that their odds of catching Indiana for the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference or securing home-court throughout the entirety of the NBA playoffs — which wound up paying huge dividends during their march to a second straight title a year ago — are dwindling with every defeat right now.
The latest loss came Friday, 111-107 to a Denver team that is almost certainly going to miss the postseason.
“Something is off, obviously,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said.
“Just not playing well,” offered four-time MVP LeBron James.
Both of those statements can’t be argued. But with a month left in the regular season, and 19 games to play, this is hardly the ideal time for the Heat (44-19) to go on a pronounced slide.
“Five out of six, to our standards, that’s unacceptable,” forward Chris Bosh said. “We know we’re better than this. We have to do a better job. We have to have better urgency. That’s all it is. That’s all it’s about. When we come with the urgency, when we come with that into the game that we play, we can’t be beaten. But if we don’t, these past couple weeks, that’s what happens.”
It hasn’t even been two weeks since things looked decidedly different for the Heat. James scored a career-high 61 points to lead Miami over Charlotte, the Heat had won eight straight and 14 of 16 to that point and were starting to make a run at the best record in the NBA.
James made his first eight 3-point shots in that Charlotte game; he’s 5 for 23 from beyond the arc since, averaging 20.2 points over the six games, well below his usual standards. No Heat starter has grabbed at least 10 rebounds in a game since Feb. 23. And since March 4 — the day this 1-5 slide started for Miami — the Heat rank 24th leaguewide in 3-point shooting, 26th in scoring and 28th in rebound differential.
“Even as decorated as our locker room is, this league is a beast and we’ll respond,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We looked each other in the eye. We know how things can change very quickly in this league. And momentum can change again in our favor, but we have to do everything in our capabilities to make sure that we’re putting ourselves in position to make that change.”
The easiest solution would probably be beating the team against whom this slump began.
Houston, which topped Miami 106-103 on March 4, visits Sunday. The Rockets are 0-2 on their current trip, with losses at Oklahoma City and Chicago, but haven’t had a three-game slide yet this season. They’re 4-0 in games immediately following a two-game losing skid, and probably feel like they’re getting the Heat at the right time.
“We’ve been here before,” James said. “It’s been a while, but we’ve been here before. This moment will either define our season or it will end our season. Obviously it won’t end right now, but if it carries on into the playoffs, it will.”
When Miami lost five straight around this same point in the 2010-11 season, Spoelstra delivered the still-memorable, drawn-out line that Miami just had to “not ... let ... go ... of ... the ... rope.”
Same rules apply now, apparently.
James said he doesn’t see a crisis of confidence, Wade insisted the locker room dynamic is as good as ever, and regardless of what happens the rest of the regular season Miami will still be an overwhelming favorite in at least its first two playoff series.
But somewhere between the locker room and the court these days, the champs are losing an edge, and Bosh said the time to fix that is now.
“We just have to take it on the chin and stay in the fight,” Bosh said. “We’re going to do that. We’re going to turn this thing around and we’re going to make a championship run. That’s going to be it, because we have to.”