Used to be that off days on the road coinciding with the NFL playoffs were like sacred holidays to be carefully planned and thoroughly enjoyed by the Heat’s players.
On Saturday, the team practiced for over 2 1/2 hours in a rented-out high school gymnasium here in Southern California during the middle of the postseason clash between the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots. In 2013, the Heat rented out part of a Toronto sports bar to watch the Ravens in the Super Bowl.
Those glory years of the Heat are fading from memory now faster and faster with every passing third-quarter meltdown and the corresponding day-after practice meant to break the malaise.
“At some point this work has to translate,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Pat Riley was there at Santa Monica High School — and in business attire. Assistant coach Dan Craig used every bit of the reserved court time to squeeze in extra work with Danny Granger before the Heat had to clear out of the gym for a youth volleyball event. In other words, it’s not like anyone can accuse the Heat of not putting in the necessary time to turn around this losing season.
“This was long?” Dwyane Wade asked a reporter rhetorically afterward. “It’s consistent.”
At least something is these days.
The Heat, it seems, already has practiced more this season than it did in the four seasons with LeBron James on the team. More practice time does not always equal more victories in the NBA, though. In a lot of ways, the Heat’s best players, Chris Bosh and Wade, are still trying to break themselves of some bad habits built up over seasons playing with James.
Nowhere is that more obvious recently than in third quarters of games. The Heat is last in the NBA in third-quarter scoring.
“There was a lot of room for error,” Bosh said of seasons past. “Before, we could B.S. around, not that we did, but we could B.S. around for 3 1/2 quarters, and people were making fun of us for turning it on, but it wasn’t always like that.
“Sometimes it was like that, but we had the talent and stuff to kind of just be able to have that luxury to just play the game and let it come to us. This is a different team. We have to be physical, and we really have to slow the game up and play on our terms. Before, we could play any kind of way and beat you.”
Wade and Bosh could rely on talent in previous years but, all things now being pretty much equal, Spoelstra says consistent effort and attention to detail are needed to win again.
“It’s a lot of small things that are big,” Wade said. “We just don’t have the team that can go through those stretches. There’s a lot of teams that can go through lulls. We just don’t have it. We haven’t built that team that when it goes down after being up, we can’t come back.
“We haven’t proven that we have that, so try not to put ourselves in that position, even though we’re like maniacs right now who keep doing the same thing over and over.”
The Heat (15-21) has won just six games since Dec. 1, and the team currently is clinging to eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings. With a win total Saturday equal to the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets, the Heat might be flying back to Miami next week in 10th place in the East if something doesn’t change, and fast.
“We look at the film and it’s a game of inches, and we’re a few feet off,” Bosh said. “So, when you get into these late-game situations we don’t know what’s happening, we look back at the film and we’re not where we’re supposed to be, so we have to pay close attention to detail.”
In a rare moment of reflection, Spoelstra admitted after Thursday’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers that his team “simply didn’t have enough” in the third quarter. He said Saturday there were no plans currently to change the Heat’s starting lineup — perhaps moving center Hassan Whiteside into the first five — but plans have changed often and without notice this season.
“Each one of us has to take a mentality of what are you going to do differently,” Spoelstra said. “None of us are above what is happening, and we can’t shocked and we can’t have any thoughts of here we go again. It has to be, what am I going to do differently? What more can I give? What more can I do to make this different and get a different result?
“That’s what it has be, 15 players and five staff, collectively we have to overcome that and have a breakthrough.”
Sunday: Heat at Clippers
When/where: 3:30 p.m.; Staples Center, Los Angeles.
TV/radio: Sun Sports; WAXY 104.3 FM, 790 AM and WAQI 710 AM (Spanish).
Series: Heat lead 32-20.
Noteworthy: There is a wide gulf offensively between the Heat and the Clippers. The Heat is averaging 93.8 points per game entering Sunday’s matinee at Staples Center, and the Clippers are scoring 106.5 points per game. … The Heat has lost seven of its past 10 games and five of its past six. The Clippers have won four of their past five games.