What’s wrong with the Miami HEAT? At just 4-6 over their last 10 games, that is a question some observers are starting to ponder. It isn’t uncommon for a team to endure a rough stretch over the course of a long 82-game season, but the timing of it is cause for some concern.
Dwyane Wade’s health has been monitored throughout the year, as head coach Erik Spoelstra has seemingly adopted a similar approach to that of Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. Wade has played in just 49 of the HEAT’s 67 games on the year, and although the league may not want to publicly acknowledge it due to the appearance and potential outcry from fans (paying customers), limiting the amount of wear and tear your core players have to endure during what is expected to be another Finals run is not only a wise tactic, but a necessary one when you have aging stars.
The HEAT have proven to be a resilient group in the past, but they need to be at least relatively healthy if they are to truly have a chance at being the first team since the 1987 Boston Celtics to represent a conference in four consecutive Finals. At 47-20, they are currently just six games off last year’s pace.
Even though another 37-2 finish similar to the one they closed 2012-13 on was highly unlikely, this isn’t the time of year where you want to have questions regarding the playoff push.
“We have never played this poorly at this point in the season before,” Shane Battier told Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald. “This is uncharted territory for us, but I like to think it will forge us and make us better for the stretch run. But we have to make it happen. We can’t just hope that things will turn around.”
“I wish I had an answer to that,” Chris Bosh added when asked about the team’s inconsistent play. “We aren’t used to playing so unstable. I think we are trying to figure it out — what our style is, what our consistent plays are. We are in this gray area right now. We need to pick it up. We are running out of time. We still have time, but we have to do a better job if we want to win.”
Not that it is time for an all-out panic, as LeBron James is still the best basketball player on the planet. That said, even the seemingly indestructible James has been banged up at times this season with various ailments; most recently missing a game due to back spasms. There’s no such thing as a completely healthy roster after the rigors of an NBA regular season, but you’d imagine a heavy part of the load will be placed squarely upon James’ back if the HEAT are to in fact repeat as at least Eastern Conference champs.
With no realistic danger of dropping behind the Toronto Raptors at this point, and although just two games back of the Indiana Pacers in loss column, the HEAT certainly don’t appear to feel home court advantage in the presumed Eastern Conference Finals is an absolute requirement. If we’re being honest, while it would be a nice luxury to fall back upon, that is probably something that is significantly more important to a young team like the Pacers. Regardless of where a Game 7 would be played, Miami knows how to pace themselves and temper their emotions in the biggest moments of a pivotal game.
The trouble might ultimately be in adopting too much of a “flip-the-switch” mentality, whether players are cognizant they are thinking that way or not. The last two teams attempting to qualify for their fourth-straight Finals appearances were coincidentally both the 2002-03 and 2010-11 Los Angeles Lakers squads that each showed signs of life throughout those regular seasons, only to eventually fall short against a younger, hungrier and even healthier team in year four of their respective runs.
The HEAT would be the undoubted favorites against the rest of the Eastern Conference pack through the first two rounds, but could find themselves in some uncomfortable territory if they eventually meet a healthy Pacers team with vengeance in their hearts. Even though the conference wasn’t at its best this year, the HEAT might find themselves fighting their greatest challenge of this group’s run. Not just a formidable opponent in whomever they face in the playoffs, but the battle against attrition of both the mind and body.
That’s no excuse, of course, as we highly doubt opposing teams are going to feel sorry for what HEAT players have endured since the introductory pep rally that seems so long ago. To their credit, and to a man, HEAT players either avoid any such excuse altogether or speak of it in terms of simply a challenge they must embrace. We can only hope they find a way to conjure up what it takes to make a run at such a feat. Accomplishments like appearing in four consecutive Finals are fairly rare these days, and should be acknowledged from a historical perspective when they do actually occur. At the very least, even if Miami were lose a tough series along the way but were playing their best at the time, it would be another epic battle for the ages. That’s all any of us can ask for as hoops fans.
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