The Heat’s defensive slump was put on full display Thursday night as the team was taken down by the New York Knicks, looking like just a fraction of a team it appears to be on paper.
Redeeming qualities, though few and far between, were overshadowed by play that was indicative that there’s something not going right beneath the surface of this championship-caliber group.
There’s a body of work that begins with training camp. It moves to practice, shootarounds and film sessions, making stops along the way to address keeping bodies and minds in peak condition. Despite the charted path, staying on it has been nothing short of an uphill climb for Head coach Erik Spoelstra’s team this season.
“[The work] has to translate now to the emotional, physical commitment during the course of a game,” he said. “That’s not the habit we’ve built so far.”
Such habits where slow starts are remedied by last-minute heroics are characteristic, but that’s without allowing the opponent 44 three-point attempts (as in Thursday’s effortless takedown by the Knicks).
The normally contagious energy of a Heat practice was weighed down by the loss — LeBron James called it a cloud — because this is a team that’s honest with one another about what’s going wrong. Underneath the cloud, the players knew that “being real about it,” as Spoelstra said, was the biggest step to take. The responsibility has to fall somewhere, and the team is ready to speak up.
“It’s all on me,” Mario Chalmers said, still with a wrapped finger. “I’ve got to find a way to do a better job.”
Norris Cole said he felt ready for the Knicks, but his strained groin might have told a different story Thursday night. He managed one rebound and one assist.
Chris Bosh echoed the sentiment that he can always get better. Paired with Dwyane Wade, the duo was near-lethargic in the contest, shooting just 6 for 25 from the field.
And in a way, it’s James who nailed it. Even if his efforts were largely wasted, he continued to express himself with a wisdom that sounds beyond his 27 years. One assist short of his second triple-double in two games in the loss, he still put the onus on himself.
“My motivation is well beyond hoisting one trophy. I’m not taking any shortcuts to get to that point and I can’t allow my teammates to take shortcuts,” he said. “We’ve got to be better, I’ve got to be better. It’s that simple.”
The Heat allowed New York to take it for nine points in less than three minutes in the fourth quarter.
The door was slammed shut, and another 20-point loss to the Knicks in the program.
“The good thing is we can be great,” the thoughtful James said. “But right now we’re not good. We’re not very good right now as a team.”
There’s something to be learned from every loss, and the Knicks showed Miami that the best components of a team are better when they work together. With Carmelo Anthony watching the game with a suit on, New York’s bench outscored the Heat’s 57-19. Whether offense is the best defense or simply playing “as a team,” James is on to something.
“We have an opportunity to correct it right now. If it goes too long, what it becomes is a tendency, if goes longer than that, it becomes a habit,” Spoelstra said. “If it continues, by the time you get to the playoffs, that’s who you are.”
Without looking to the past, the Heat is undoubtedly in need of defining this season by how well some of the best pieces in the league fit together.
Honesty is a pretty good place to start.