The shortcomings on the defensive end are as glaring as they are troubling during this Heat swoon that has now extended to a third week, with seven losses in Miami’s past 11 games. Never before during the Big 3 era has the Heat played such deficient defense for such a sustained stretch.
What’s less obvious, but also problematic, is an issue Chris Bosh broached in a dejected Heat locker room in the aftermath of Saturday night’s 105-95 loss to the lottery-bound New Orleans Pelicans.
Bosh cited a lack of passion, perhaps not surprising during the drudgery of a season that will be judged solely on whether Miami wins a third consecutive championship. But he also pointed to a lack of communication, or more specifically, his teammates’ reluctance to stand up and say what needs to be said.
Perhaps Saturday night marked a turning point in that regard, with Bosh and LeBron James speaking more bluntly than any Heat player has all season.
Whether it leads to better defensive play remains to be seen.
“We don’t talk about it,” a frustrated Bosh said about Miami’s on-court problems. “We’re not expressing ourselves in the locker room or on the court. So I figure I’ll be the first one to say we [stink], and we need to turn it around. And if we don’t play better, we’ll be watching the championship at home.
“We just show up and do whatever. [After a] loss, nobody is upset. [After a] win, nobody is happy. There’s no passion. There’s nothing. I just want there to be something. If you are mad, say you’re mad. If you are frustrated, say you are frustrated. Give reasons for that. We just need some dialogue around here. It’s uncomfortable keeping things in. We’ve been keeping things in for a whole season now. And we’re running out of time. We need to let it out and have some urgency.”
But Bosh acknowledged it will take more than words to snap this team out of a funk that has raised serious concerns internally.
“[Words] can definitely light a fire. [But] that isn’t going to make the next game easier,” he said. “We need that competitive drive back. We don’t have it. No offense to the Pelicans, but we’ve been losing to sub-.500 teams for a month now. It’s unacceptable. We’re going to have to draw the line in the sand somewhere.
“It starts and ends with us. Right now, we’re looking for other people or some miraculous situation to come down and help us, and nobody is going to help us. The only person that’s going to help us out of this is the person staring back in the mirror. Until we recognize that and fight past it, we’re going to keep getting the same result.”
James put it this way: “Too many excuses. Everything is an excuse. We do something wrong? It’s an excuse. We don’t get a stop. It’s an excuse. We turn the ball over, it’s an excuse. We’ve got to own what we’re doing right now, and what we’re doing right now ain’t good enough. It’s very frustrating. We’re all frustrated. I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’ve got to figure it out.”
Most disconcerting is the Heat’s dramatic defensive drop-off. In field-goal percentage against, the Heat ranked second, fifth and sixth the past three seasons, finishing between 43.4 and 44 percent every year.
This season? Miami is 18th at 45.8. Only twice in the past 14 seasons has Miami finished out of the top 10 in that category.
“On defense, we can’t stop a nosebleed,” Bosh said. “It has nothing to do with talent level. This team [New Orleans] got everything they wanted. They’re not even an outside jump shooting team. They lit us up on the three-point line. Penetration. No good man [defense] or blitzes. No good pick-and-roll coverage. Everything is bad.”
James was asked to explain why the Heat has allowed seven of its past 11 opponents to shoot between 49.3 and 52 percent.
“There’s a disconnect,” he said. “We have to get reconnected.”
Is it because of all the lineup changes?
“That’s an excuse, too,” he said. “We’ve always had lineup changes. You have to guard your man and help second. When you break down, you have to rely on help. We’re not getting both.
“Guys are not playing their man. When guys get beat, which will happen in this league because it’s great players, then the help comes. We’re not doing it.”
The last Heat team to allow more points per game than this one was the 2007-08 group, which finished 15-67 and relinquished 100 points per game. This Heat team is giving up 98.6, much worse than Indiana (91.9) and worse than the first three seasons of the Big 3 era (94.6, 92.5, 95.0).
“We’ve got to play harder,” Udonis Haslem said. “We can’t take plays off. We’re not entitled. Everything we’ve gotten, we’ve earned.
“Sometimes we get stops and we don’t get the rebounds. Sometimes we don’t get stops. We got to get stops and rebounds. We’ve got to guard the ball, and when the ball gets in the paint, we’ve got to contest. It’s not about offense right now. It’s about defense.”
• Though James rolled his right ankle late in the third quarter, he played through it and said he wouldn’t miss any games. “I don’t have time to take off,” he said. “We don’t have time to take off.”