MIAMI -- Less than a week into their second consecutive title defense, the Miami Heat are already working through some early struggles affecting their long successful union.
Having lost two of their first three games entering Sunday's matchup with the Washington Wizards, Heat stars Dwyane Wade and LeBron James admitted that some minor chemistry issues have contributed to the shaky start.
"Let me give you an example," Wade said prior to Sunday's game, which the Heat won 103-93 to even their record at 2-2. "If you're in a relationship with a woman for a long time, you start getting comfortable. You stop doing the little things that you should do, that you did in the beginning. It's just like a relationship. We got a little comfortable. Now we have to get back on that edge a little bit."
Neither Wade nor James referred to one another directly, with both suggesting the entire team needed time to get reacquainted coming off last season's championship run.
After beating the Chicago Bulls last Tuesday following the ceremony to raise their 2012-13 championship banner, the Heat were stunned a night later in a loss at Philadelphia after falling behind 19-0. Another sluggish start dropped Miami into a double-digit deficit Friday in Brooklyn, where the Heat's late rally came up short in a 101-100 loss to the Nets.
In addition to the slow starts, turnovers also have been a problem for the Heat so far this season. Miami had given up 77 points on 55 total turnovers in its first three games.
Both James and Wade entered the season saying their conditioning level wasn't where they wanted it, and that they would need time to get their legs into game shape. While Wade has been trying to manage sore knees, James has been gradually building up his minutes after an offseason of extensive travel following his marriage.
Naturally, Wade's comments about relationship challenges raised eyebrows and drew a bit of laughter in the locker room as the Heat prepared to face the Wizards.
"It's just getting back into it -- not taking what we have for granted," James said moments later when told of Wade's comments. "We've been together so long, you start to think we can go out and make it happen instead of talking through it. We lacked that the last few games. We got a handle on it today, and we know what the issue is."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Sunday that the team met earlier in the day and discussed some of the problems that have led to its sluggish play. Immediately after Friday's loss in Brooklyn, James said the team wasn't playing with enough urgency at the start of games. Wade also said the team's inconsistent play is proof that it still has plenty of improvements to make despite bringing back the bulk of its rotation from last season's championship.
Spoelstra said before Sunday's game that the team hasn't played as a "connected" unit.
"The (previous) two games have been like filling holes in a dam," Spoelstra said Sunday. "There have been so many things we have not done well in the beginning of the game. Connected basketball is doing it where all five guys are on the same page. Defensively, we know what we are talking about. There are times in the last two games where we have played as well as we possibly can. Then there are other possessions where we are running into each other."
The Heat have established an impressive track record of overcoming some of these issues. After starting 9-8 during their first season together in the 2010-11 season, James and Wade won 21-of-22 games during a midseason stretch and advanced to the Finals before losing to Dallas in six games.
Slow starts were also a concern the last two seasons, but the Heat eventually got going and won back-to-back titles.
Adversity this early in the schedule isn't a major concern. Wade is confident the Heat have the solution.
"Get back to talking, communicating and having that connection, before it gets to that point where we get too far away from what we need to do," Wade said. "Talk about it, knowing what you do wrong and try to go out and correct it -- when you get your next opportunity."
James was on the same page with Wade's assessment.
"We're not in panic mode right now," James said. "The best thing about our team is (when) we see something that needs to be fixed, we fix it. We get right into it. We don't let things linger too much. We both sense it. We've all been together for a while, so we know."