Here’s a depressing thought for a team that has played in the NBA Finals in each of the past four seasons. The Heat could be in 12th place in the Eastern Conference by next week.
As it stands right now, with 24 games remaining, the Heat (25-33) does not look like a playoff team and, truth be told, the players and coach might be starting to show the first signs of defeat, the first signs of losing hope in this star-crossed season.
With four teams trailing the seventh-place Heat by a game or less, that’s disconcerting, especially considering point guard Goran Dragic and Chris Andersen are both questionable for Monday’s game against the Phoenix Suns. Dragic had back spasms during and after Saturday’s loss to the Hawks, and Andersen is sick.
Before the All-Star break, before Chris Bosh was checked into a hospital on the eve of the playoff push, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had answered every challenge with an open mind and every injury with innovation.
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On Saturday, after his team lost to the short-handed Hawks, Spoelstra was at a loss.
“We just have to continue to work to get better,” Spoelstra said. “If that means we’re getting better in games, so be it. That’s what it has to be right now because of the schedule. We’re not making excuses for our continuity.
“You have to trust the game.”
Lack of trust, lack of chemistry or lack of rhythm — it’s all the same thing right now for the Heat.
Some noteworthy figures over the past two games that illustrate the Heat’s plight:
▪ The team had six more turnovers than assists against the Hawks. The Heat committed 23 turnovers compared with just 17 assists.
▪ There was one point during the Heat’s loss on Friday in New Orleans when players that were not on the team last season had 44 of the team’s 46 points.
▪ Against the Hawks, two players who weren’t on the team last week combined to attempt more than one-third of the Heat’s shots. Henry Walker had 16 shot attempts.
Michael Beasley had 12. Both players are on 10-day contracts.
▪ Walker started against Atlanta. It was his fourth game with the team.
“It’s definitely difficult,” said Walker, who has scored in double figures in his first four games with the team. “Basketball is a rhythm game, and you’ve got to have guys in sync. Right now we’re trying to find that balance and find out how everybody plays.”
The addition of Dragic has increased the Heat’s pace, center Hassan Whiteside might be the NBA’s most improved player, and Walker seems up to the task. The new pieces might seem good enough to make the playoffs, but the challenge is getting everything to fit at this critical time of the season when all other teams are comfortable and playing determined, playoff-ready basketball.
Time is running out.
“I’ve only been here … I don’t even know how many days I’ve been here, and trying to find out how everybody plays, and where they like to be on the court, trying not to be in somebody’s way — all that kind of factors into it,” Walker said. “So the longer you’re with a group the easier it is to bond and have that cohesiveness on the court.”
Despite the turnovers and general chaos of his team’s offense against the Hawks, Spoelstra found reasons to be positive after the game. That’s a start if the Heat is going to pull together enough wins to qualify for the postseason. The Heat did score 38 points in the fourth quarter.
“Some of our best possessions in the last couple weeks were in the second half,” Spoelstra said. “Really good ball movement. A lot of ball movement led to a missed shot.”
Missing shots and still figuring out how to win games, that’s the trick right now for the Heat.
“It’s going to have to be ugly,” Wade said. “We’ve got to find a way to win ugly if we want to be in the playoffs. We’ve got some more games left, still have 20-something games left, and we got to keep fighting.
“We got to trying to find a way no matter who is in the lineup and who is out of the lineup to try to get some wins.”