For those deeply concerned that the Heat’s ongoing malaise might carry over into the playoffs, coach Erik Spoelstra offered a reminder Thursday:
“Our championship year, we struggled in April. We had some bad losses. [And] Dallas really struggled” last April.
The Heat, in fact, lost seven of its final 11 to close the regular season before winning a title in 2006. This Heat team enters Thursday night’s game at Chicago having lost five of its past 10 and seven of its past 10 on the road.
With the Bulls leading the Heat by three games, a Heat loss Thursday would make it highly unlikely that Miami would claim the No. 1 seed, barring a Bulls collapse. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Derrick Rose, who missed Tuesday’s game with an ankle sprain, practiced Wednesday and is “fine”. He is reportedly expected to play.
Meanwhile, if you were looking for significant concern or frustration at Heat practice on Wednesday, you weren’t going to find it.
Is there some urgency to start playing better? Absolutely. But there remains a cool confidence with this team, the implied message that none of these losses – even collectively – should be overstated. Just listen:
### LeBron James: “We know we’ve got room for improvement, but there’s no concern right now. We know we’ve got a really good team. You want to have some momentum going into the playoffs, but once the playoffs start, it doesn’t matter what you did in the regular season.”
### Dwyane Wade: “We’re a very confident team. We know how good we are. No matter what people say we’re going through, we’re not that bad. We’re 40-16.”
### Chris Bosh: “We find ourselves having to get over a lot of losses. They really don’t bother me too much. We have to find a way to get it going. We’re right where we need to be right now. I don’t think we’re playing bad on offense. There’s no lack of trust.”
And what about the value of the No. 1 seed, which ensures homecourt advantage in every Eastern Conference playoff series? Depends who you ask.
“We want to catch Chicago. It’s an important game,” Bosh said. “You’re really trying to establish your dominance in the conference.”
But James countered, “I don’t care about seedings too much. I just want to play well going into the playoffs. Had the No. 1 seed in Cleveland, we didn’t win. We had the No. 2 seed last year and we got to the Finals. [But] we’re not a team that says, ‘We can cruise these last couple weeks and then turn it on in the playoffs.’ You can’t do that. You build your habits in the regular season.”
The Heat has lost its past six games on the road against teams well above .500, with the losses by 19 to Boston, 15 to Indiana, 16 to Oklahoma City, four to Chicago, six to Orlando and 10 to the Lakers. Since Feb. 15, the Heat has only one road win against a team with a winning record (Philadelphia).
Spoelstra and players said the Heat hasn’t had much dropoff offensively (Miami is fourth in points per game), though the team’s scoring average is down significantly since Miami averaged 106 over an 11-game stretch ending March 1. The bigger concerns are rebounding (Miami is 20th in the league) and defensive lapses, even though the Heat still ranks in the top 10 in points allowed (eighth) and field goal percentage against (seventh).
In Tuesday’s 115-107 win against the Heat, Boston shot 60.6 percent – the highest by a Miami opponent since James joined Miami. Though Boston made a lot of difficult shots, “we could have done things with more discipline and mental toughness,” Spoelstra said.
Still, the coach added, “I feel confident with a lot of things going on with this team. Things can change very quickly. All it would take for us is one signature win.”
### Wade said it felt “weird” playing in Chicago, his hometown, earlier in his career but now he’s more comfortable there.
### The Bulls are 16-7 without Rose. “You take Rose off that team- they’re still better than a lot of teams in the NBA,” James said.
### Spoelstra used 10 players Tuesday and said “we have some time to figure” out the rotation, which remains in flux.
### Wade agreed with Ray Allen’s comments this week that players should be compensated for playing in the Olympics, perhaps through jersey sales.
“You play the whole summer; I do think players should be compensated,” said Wade, who is expected to join James on the U.S. team at this summer’s London Olympics. “I think college players should be compensated as well. You get no rest. It’s taxing on the body.”
James said “it doesn’t matter” to him if Olympians are paid.