TORONTO -- Erik Spoelstra might have achieved a season high Friday night ... in cursing.
The Heat’s coach stomped up and down the Air Canada Centre sideline, frequently seeming infuriated by his team’s play. The hips of his finely tailored suit took some undue wear as he repeatedly jammed his hands there in concert with his head snapping back and his eyes rolling upward. He called angry timeouts, huffing out on the court with his arms raised above his head so he could bark at assistants, which was probably more prudent than immediately going into the huddle while still so raw.
This is where it should be mentioned that the Heat won, 113-101. In fact, they had their best offensive game in weeks, which, considering the circumstance that they arrived at their hotel at 4:30 a.m., was not totally expected.
So this is where the Heat find themselves as they enter the last month of the regular season. They are clearly not playing to the standard Spoelstra wants or, perhaps, to the level their overall talent suggests they should. They have the third-best record in the league which is very good but not great.
But with little legit motivation in the standings -- barring a significant change of events, the Heat appear to be a lock for the No. 2 seed in the East -- and so much season left to go, the Heat are cruising a bit right now. Their coach is accepting it through gritted teeth.
“I’m encouraged by our no-excuses attitude,” Spoelstra said. “We had to stay the course.”
Thank goodness for that 20-minute postgame cooling-off period. In addition to studying the advanced stats his assistants provided him, in that time the coach also realized that getting a road win in a challenging Miami-to-Toronto back-to-back is going to have to suffice for now.
Even if the Heat did give up 54 percent shooting to a Raptors team that used three players who have spent time in the D-League this season.
Miami basically got away with playing 12 good minutes, but they were the last 12. The Heat won the fourth quarter 30-18 to break a tie and move on to Boston for a Sunday afternoon game that should get their attention a little bit more.
LeBron James had 26 points and nine assists and, by going 11-of-18, had his best shooting game in three weeks. Dwyane Wade had 30 points, 11 of them coming in the fourth quarter. Chris Bosh had 30, too, the Heat spending the final minute trying to get him the last bucket to hit that threshold in front of his old fans who only went through the motions in booing him.
“At the end of the day, it is about just winning,” James said with a shrug. “You want to play to your abilities, but the win/loss column doesn’t lie.”
If Spoelstra could speak freely, he’d probably say that that is not a championship mentality. One of his go-to themes has been to “build good habits.” This is a standard coaching principle for a reason: It’s proven to be rewarding over the long haul. It could be said that the 1995-96 Bulls, for example, would not settle for simply playing one good quarter against a 17-35 team like the Raptors.
But there’s a difference between legend and reality, of course. The Heat are not playing like a title team right now; their 4-6 road record since the All-Star break speaks to that. But they also don’t have to play like a title team in a prototypical trap game in the last week of March.
They will be judged on the end result, not how they get there. Right now the journey is not following the script that the coach wants, the style the Heat were showing off a month ago. But as much as the coach curses and prods, it seems like this team is going to ease its way to the defining moments of the season.
Perhaps saving energy for the playoff grind is smart. Perhaps the Heat are showing cracks in focus that will eventually doom them. No matter what anyone thinks, the correct answer has not yet presented itself.
Check back in a few months to see how it worked out.