Yes, okay. The Miami Heat are not doing so well at this moment in time. The team’s 87-86 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Sunday was their fourth consecutive loss and fifth in the last six games. Two of those losses have come against Chicago, which took control of the East’s No. 2 record on Sunday; the other losses came against playoff-bound Orlando and New York and the championship-caliber San Antonio Spurs.
The problem isn’t that they’re losing. I mean, yes, sure, that’s a problem, and it’s not going away over the next nine days: three of their next opponents are San Antonio, the Lakers and Oklahoma City. The losing isn’t over. After that stretch, however, Miami has a chance to rack up wins the same way they have all season: by beating up on vastly inferior opponents. (They have 10-game stretch beginning March 19 that pits them against Denver, Detroit, Philly, Cleveland, Washington, Minnesota, Houston, New Jersey, Charlotte and Milwaukee. All winnable games.)
The problem lies in the Heat’s 1-9 record against the league’s top five teams. The problem lies in a team that can’t rally or can’t finish games. The problem isn’t that players are crying over a regular season loss; though that’s sure to open the team up to more mockery, I vastly prefer a team that gets emotional after a loss over a bunch of guys who could shrug it off and forget about it.
Obviously, this is still the regular season. And this is still a team trying to gel, I guess. But these excuses mean less and less as the weeks wear on. Miami is going to have to get through Boston, Chicago, Orlando and New York in the postseason. The Heat are still going to win at least 55 games, because there’s enough weaker opponents out there to assure that. But they have little control left over their destiny; Boston and Chicago are ahead of them, both are much more cohesive units and the Heat need the Bulls to stumble badly to make sure they get the second seed. (Boston is out of reach for Miami, let’s be honest about that right now.)
It’d be easy to try and assign blame, to say the coach isn’t energizing his players, to say they still don’t know how to play together at crunch time, to say they could have used a few more talented role players rather than Chris Bosh, to say LeBron or Wade needs to do more late in games to get the other involved. These are all valid criticisms. I don’t really think there’s any point in declaring that a March loss brands LeBron as a choker, nor do I think folks will particularly remember this stretch if the Heat win their first eight playoff games or something.
The problem isn’t that the Heat are losing. The problem is how they are losing, and to whom, and how little fight they show at crucial moments. The entire appeal of a star-laden team was knowing that, when the clock is winding down, the best guys on the floor are on your side. At least that’s how it seemed last summer. Now, it seems like this still isn’t a team: there are some great individual players and performances, but not an NBA championship-level assemblage of skills, roles and necessary pieces.