Before they practiced, before Hassan Whiteside went through a full non-contact practice on his own, the Miami Heat met Sunday morning to air out their frustrations over their poor play in back-to-back losses to the Spurs and Celtics.
Digging a big hole at the start of the season like last year, co-captain Goran Dragic said after Saturday’s loss to the Celtics, isn’t something he wants to see this team do again. So, at the urging of coach Erik Spoelstra, players and coaches met and aired out their grievances.
“A lot of people took heat,” said co-captain James Johnson, who cited lack of effort and physical play as two things the Heat has been missing through its first five games.
“I think it was the best thing for us to do, even more important than film. That’s what this culture is about, that’s what we’re about – staring guys in the eyes, telling guys the truth. That’s how you show you really love somebody.
“We all got to play with a chip on our shoulder and we also all got to play with that edge again. We’re losing who we were and who we are. And that can’t happen on this team.”
Honest, blunt conversations in meetings like Sundays worked many times to right the ship last season during the Heat’s 30-11 second-half turnaround. Miami (2-3) is hoping it works again Monday when the Minnesota Timberwolves (3-3) and Karl-Anthony Towns visit AmericanAirlines Arena.
Spoelstra said the likelihood Whiteside, the NBA's leading shot blocker in 2015-16 and leading rebounder in 2016-17, will return for the Heat Monday is “very doubtful.”
There’s little doubt not having Whiteside around for the last four games has hurt Miami in regard to all of those numbers. The Heat ranks 21st in defensive rating (106.7), 24th in giving up points in the paint (48.8 points per game) and dead last in second chance points allowed (19.0).
“He’s our heart,” Dragic said after Saturday’s 96-90 loss to the Celtics of Whiteside. “You can see it. Everyone is going into the paint. His ability to stop people or just to change shots is huge. Then, you know, rebounding is a huge factor for us when he’s on the floor.
“When you get some stops you can run more and I feel like we’ll figure out [the offensive struggles] when we get some stops and open up the transition game, get some easy buckets. Then it will be much easier like last year. Hopefully he’s coming back soon.”
The Heat’s offensive woes Saturday were compounded by 19 turnovers. Spoelstra said the Heat has to be more efficient than it was against the Celtics moving forward.
“You have to give credit to Boston,” Spoelstra said. “They have a top-five defense right now. They did a great job protecting the paint. I think we probably had seven or eight unnecessary turnovers. We had turnovers that, hey, they forced us, deflections or got us uncomfortable and you have to give them credit. We had some unnecessary ones that really cost us and we paid the price for. We have to be a team that’s winning the possession game and keeping our turnovers to around 12, maybe 14. We definitely don’t win a lot of games when we’re over 20.”
Said Justise Winslow of Miami’s turnovers: “I think it’s just being more careful with the ball, making the safe play rather than trying to be too over ambitious sometimes.”
What Spoelstra likes more than anything right now is that his team is recognizing its flaws and trying to address them with honest communication. It’s something Dragic, Johnson and Winslow all mentioned Sunday as the team’s No. 1 problem through its first five games.
“We feel like if we’re honest to each other, if you talk more then even if you’re not in the right spot but if you’re vocal enough, that’s going to get you to that spot,” Dragic said. “On the floor, we don’t talk much and I think that’s a problem because you need to be comfortable to say, ‘You need to be on the help side, you need to do this for me.’ The list goes on and on.
“Every season is different. Every season, it’s not like we expected to have immediately that chemistry like we finished the season. It takes time to work on the floor. At least, we know what the recipe is to achieve that. We’re going to that model right now and we’re going to get there.”