With Dwyane Wade out for the foreseeable future and Luol Deng still questionable with a strained calf, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had a message for every member of his team before Friday’s debacle against the Dallas Mavericks.
“Be ready,” Spoelstra told them.
The message was meant mainly for reserve rookies James Ennis and Tyler Johnson, who both saw minutes significantly above their season averages in the 93-72 loss. But Spoelstra’s words could have resonated even with his superstars and applied to the entire team.
Everyone, including Chris Bosh, is finding himself in unfamiliar territory.
“They were flying at me pretty fast, making me put the ball on the floor, corralling me,” Bosh said of the Mavericks, which didn’t have Wade or Deng to worry about and embarrassed the Heat with a 37-2 second-half run. “They were really hounding the ball.
“I haven’t seen that in a while — ever really.”
Bosh finished with 12 points on 5-of-18 shooting from the field, nine points below his season average. That performance played a big part in the Mavericks coming about a minute away from holding the Heat’s fourth-quarter output to the lowest single-quarter total in franchise history (two last-minute baskets put that regrettable record out of reach).
Then there’s the standings and the playoffs, which has Miami looking at upcoming games against rebuilding Boston (Sunday) and Detroit (Tuesday) as must-wins to stay in the playoff race.
Talk about unfamiliar territory.
“Those were the types of games that were tough to get up for,” Bosh said. “Now I don’t think we have to get ourselves psyched. It’s there. We need them, those games.”
At 20-26, entering Saturday’s games the Heat is still just a game up on eighth-place Charlotte and two in front of ninth-place Brooklyn despite the Nets’ recent 2-8 stretch. Neither the Celtics nor Pistons are considered contenders, yet both sit just 31/2 games out of the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, and just 41/2 behind Miami, which has lost two in a row.
With reigning champion San Antonio looming at the end of the trip, Miami might need its upcoming games against weaker opponents, including Minnesota (Wednesday), to avoid a free-fall.
It’s a similar mind-set to the one Bosh found himself in on the court amid swarms of rotational shifts.
“We don’t have time to really sit and ponder and think,” Bosh said. “I’m just trying to hold on to the ropes right now.”
Things are spinning, and Spoelstra is looking for a way to keep them from spiraling out of control.
“Right now we’re obviously a team with all hands on deck,” Spoelstra said.
That doesn’t include Wade, who didn’t travel to Boston, but could include Deng. Deng traveled, but Spoelstra wouldn’t commit to playing the injured forward Sunday.
“It’s too early to tell,” he said.
Without Deng, expect to see more of Johnson, who the Heat signed to a second 10-day contract when Wade went down. Johnson (three assists) and Ennis (15 points) both made key contributions during Friday’s first half. But both were also on the floor for much of the second-half collapse.
Although the Heat has had second-half troubles all season, Friday’s meltdown was intensified by the incongruity that comes with roster turnover.
“It’s definitely a learning curve,” Mario Chalmers said of adapting to the new lineups.
That goes also for Bosh, who says he knows to expect increased defensive attention in the half-court set. He hopes that will open up other players and help the newer ones to find some early success.
“They know I’m going to draw a little more attention and that they [defenders] will be leaning on me a bit more,” Bosh said. “So I’ll encourage [teammates] to capitalize on this. It’s a great opportunity for somebody to step up.”