For Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, nitpicking is tough right now

Erik Spoelstra has had to search hard lately to find fault with his red-hot team that’s won nine in a row and is 14-2 since mid-January.

02/23/2013 12:00 AM

09/23/2013 6:52 PM

He’s searching for stuff to complain about. The slightest of statistics, of course, can be cut and edited into video form for review. The most subtle of trends can be fleshed out and shoved into a scouting report.

But, really, that’s all busy work at this point. He might as well spend his off days solving crossword puzzles.

Being Erik Spoelstra can be a tedious thing sometimes. Spoelstra has had tough days on the job as coach of the Heat, but not in a while. Thursday night at the United Center was another lesson in sameness. Miami’s 86-67 shellacking of the Bulls was the Heat’s ninth victory in a row. Even against the Bulls, a team that has defeated the Heat six out of nine times in the regular season since 2010, it all felt predetermined.

“Right now, we are playing pretty good basketball,” said Dwyane Wade, who had 17 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks against his hometown team. “It does not matter that we have nine wins in a row. That is OK, but as long as we are playing the basketball we want to, then winning or losing is OK, especially this time of the year.”

This time of the year, the Heat is running away with the Eastern Conference, 5 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Knicks entering play Friday night. Miami (38-14) has defeated its past six opponents by an average margin of 14.5 points. For a coach, it has made for some easy nights at the office.

Spoelstra tried to keep busy during the blowout of Chicago. He dutifully protected his players. He managed the minutes of his superstars wisely. He pointed out hard fouls to officials. Afterward, as a matter of form, he focused on the one facet of the game where his team underperformed.

“Turnovers clouded this game,” Spoelstra said. “We played well overall, but there were a lot of unforced turnovers, too many at halfcourt.

“Our competitiveness was there, but we were just sloppy.”

Spoelstra was right, of course, but it mattered little and less to the outcome. The Heat committed 18 turnovers as a team and won by 19 points. Wade had five turnovers, or one for every assist he dished out. LeBron James committed four turnovers against seven assists. Chris Bosh had three giveaways.

So, Spoelstra now has his ammunition for Saturday’s shootaround. But here’s the reality of where the Heat finds itself with 30 games left in the regular season. The team has played so well recently that its coach can’t even justify practicing on off days. The Heat was off Friday in Philadelphia and has practiced just twice in the month of February.

The 76ers’ last great player, Allen Iverson, would have loved playing for Spoelstra. Practice? Iverson never would have had to talk about it, much less do it.

The Heat is 10-1 since its 20-point blowout of the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 30. Since the middle of January, the Heat is 14-2.

During the Heat’s nine-game winning streak, James is 99 of 146 from the field for an absurd shooting percentage of 67.8. He only missed four of his 15 shots against the Bulls.

Wade is shooting over 50 percent for the season, something he has never done in his 10 years as a professional. Bosh is shooting at a career clip as well (54.9 percent). Shane Battier is 22 of 40 (55.0 percent) from three-point range in his past seven games.

Battier was part of the Heat’s second unit that broke Thursday’s game open with a 13-0 run during the second period. The Bulls didn’t score for about 4 1/2 minutes during the middle of the second quarter and managed just 13 points in 12 minutes.

“When Ray [Allen] and I came into the game together, we said, let’s just take care of the ball and we can open this thing up,” Battier said. “That was the problem in the first quarter. And that’s the strength of this team. It has always been the talent and the talent in numbers.

“It’s not going to be the Big 3 every night. It’s good to know that we have some pretty good auxiliary players, too.”

The Heat is playing so well that its players seem to be manufacturing motivational ploys. During a couple second-half huddles against the Bulls, James, Wade and others were arguing with each other so noticeably that TNT’s broadcast caught onto the perceived discord. After the game, reporters pressed the topic, forcing a story out of nothing.

“That’s just our team,” Wade said. “When we have banter back and forth it is a good thing. It is taken the wrong way by those outside, but not inside. It is just the competitiveness of the guys wanting to win.”

And then there was this: His team is playing so well that Spoelstra has even turned to making excuses for the Heat’s opponents. He pointed out that the Bulls not having guard Kirk Hinrich in the lineup “helped our defense out.”

So true yet so besides the point.

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