INDIANAPOLIS – If Erik Spoelstra slept at all Sunday night after his Miami Heat team got whipped by the Oklahoma City Thunder, it wasn’t restful.
When the Heat players trudged to their breakfast meeting Monday morning at their hotel most probably wanted some eggs, toast and a return trip to the sack. But Spoelstra had the video screen up and had an edit prepared. It wasn’t a short one.
The Heat players and coaches watched each of the 21 times they turned the ball over against the Thunder. And then probably a host of other lowlights from that uninspiring loss.
In a post All-Star break lull and in the midst of a terrible (by their standards) stretch of play on the road, the Heat recognized that they needed to get out of the malaise that’s been afflicting them recently. There needed to be more concentration and more energy, it was agreed. It was all there in the video to see.
Then the Heat went out and turned the ball over eight times in the first quarter against the Indiana Pacers. It generally got worse from there and when it was over the Pacers had put another beatdown on the Heat, 105-90.
So much for that.
The Pacers, who took great pride in the win after losing the last three meetings against the Heat this season, were just the latest team to look more engaged than the favorites. Miami is now 4-4 over its last eight games and 3-6 on road since coming back from the break.
“Every team goes through it at some point in the season,” said LeBron James, who had 24 points but had six turnovers and continued his shooting slump by making just nine of 21 shots. “It’s not like we’re the youngest team in the league. We didn’t have as much energy.”
As he has tried to fire up his team over the last few weeks, Spoelstra, who just hung his head several times during the game when seeing his players just get outhustled by Indiana, has repeatedly urged his players to “get back to our identity.”
The Heat’s identity, however, is playing very aggressive defense that gambles and creates turnovers and then runs them into fast breaks. In fact, the Heat often ran when they didn’t create turnovers or even get a defensive rebound -- they just ran off made baskets.
It’s the sort of stuff that takes boundless energy and, supposedly, they had the personnel to do it. They certainly don’t play like the Chicago Bulls, a team that just wears its opposition down with the bland stuff like rebounding and killing the 24-second clock.
The Heat are a team that wants to play fast and loose. They want to break teams’ spirits. Not just through a whole game but for games on end. For entire playoff series, for that matter. That’s how they have chosen to play this season with this collection of talent. This is not a team that “grinds the game,” to use a popular coaching phrase. A lot of the time, it has worked.
Yet as they sit three and a half games back of the Bulls and four games ahead of the Orlando Magic in the East standings while playing a road-heavy portion of the schedule, the Heat don’t seem to have a lot of motivation to keep that up right now.
It's apparent even when playing playoff-caliber opponents like the Thunder and Pacers. They’ve won 13 in a row at home, where energy historically comes easier at all levels of the game, but on the road they just aren’t showing a great deal of passion.
It shows in the careless turnovers: there were 17 more on Monday. It shows in the battles for loose balls; the Pacers crushed the Heat on the boards by a 49-33 count. It really shows in the fast break points. The Heat have gone from playing at high speed and leading the NBA in every offensive category to just doing it for 5-10 minutes a game to just arresting it altogether. Monday they had four fast-break points. A measly two hoops.
“We’re in a rut right now and we’ve just got to figure something out,” said Chris Bosh, who managed two rebounds in 36 minutes on the floor a night after he had just five in Oklahoma City. “We’re in a tough part of the schedule. Some games you’re going to be fatigued and we’ve hit a slump right now.”
It is a slump. Whether a not a team with three All-Stars and a reasonable list of role players can use this as a proper excuse is a matter of opinion. But watching the Heat move over the last few weeks, you don’t need to be a basketball expert to call that out.
“We hit a little pothole in the road here,” said Dwyane Wade, who had 24 points but missed nine of his 16 shots. “We’ll make adjustments before we get back out on the court.”