The Heat got a solid taste of the road early in the season, playing in New York before embarking on a six-game trip that started in Atlanta and stopped in Los Angeles, Denver and Phoenix.
Miami had success in that November trip, beating the Hawks as well as pulling off a rare Mile High win in Denver the night after losing to the host Clippers.
Aside from that trip, however, the Heat hadn’t left the comforts of Miami-Dade County very often — and not for an extended period — before last week.
Since the six-game road trip in November, the Heat played just two games away from AmericanAirlines Arena heading into this most recent four-game trip.
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From Nov. 21 through Christmas Day, the Heat had gone 11-3 — and 1-1 on the road.
After the Heat’s win over the Thunder on national TV last Tuesday, Miami left for its first extended road trip of December.
Miami took care of the hapless Bobcats in the opener but then got rolled in consecutive nights to the host Pistons and Bucks. On Saturday, Milwaukee opened the fourth on a 23-5 run to blow out the Heat 104-85.
The Heat concludes the trip Monday evening in Orlando. Miami is 6-6 on the road this season — the .500 record ranked 10th in the league.
Six of Miami’s eight losses (75 percent) have come on the road.
“We need to take some steps forward in terms of developing our resolve and road toughness,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Saturday night’s loss.
“We’re not quite there yet. We’re tough at home, have that toughness at home. We don’t have it on the road. That’s what you saw out there.”
Miami has shown the ability to finish so far this season. Before watching the Bucks have a quarter of a lifetime on Saturday, the Heat had been 15-0 in games it led going into the fourth quarter this season.
Spoelstra was able to give his tired group some rest in the lopsided fourth as he emptied his bench with plenty of time left.
Miami had, after all, played four games in five days with contests in Miami, North Carolina, Michigan and Wisconsin.
The Heat took Thursday and Sunday off to recover from the road. On Saturday night, LeBron James needed a break and took a spot on the bench during the third quarter — something he rarely does.
James also watched the final three-plus minutes from the bench as he scored just two points in the fourth.
“We kind of go through this same thing every year,” Dwyane Wade said. “It’s a part of the journey. You have to have these moments throughout a season so you have something to pull from. As much as we would like to be undefeated on the road, you have to look at the bigger picture. You have to go these tough moments and figure it out as a team.”
Of course, the Heat needs to get used to playing away from home. And Spoelstra figures they will. Miami kicks off 2013 with three consecutive home games (Dallas, Chicago and Washington) before a seven-game trip out west beckons.
From Monday through Feb. 3, the Heat will play 11 of its next 16 away from home.
“We’re on the road the next couple of weeks,” Spoelstra said with a grin. “We’ll have plenty of time to improve.”
• Spoelstra said finally giving Josh Harrellson some decent playing time Saturday wasn’t a slight of Joel Anthony. Although Anthony played 7:43 in the loss to the Bucks, most of it was fourth-quarter garbage time.
“In the second, [Harrellson] certainly gave us some good minutes,” Spoelstra said. “I liked the flow, how the floor was spaced. But this was not an indictment on how Joel has been playing. He will be a big factor in what we’re doing in the future.”
Harrellson, meanwhile, played 17:47 — not only the most he has played in one game since signing with the Heat but almost double what he had played in the whole season combined. Harrellson had not played in Miami’s previous 20 games.
With Udonis Haslem out of the lineup, Harrellson was told he would be playing, as he said, "37 minutes before the tip." Harrellson is usually inactive, so instead of throwing on his suit before the game, he got to put on Miami’s road blacks. He entered the game in the second quarter and played throughout.
"They tell a lot of players to ’be ready, be ready,’ but I didn’t expect to play 18 minutes,’’ said Harrellson, who went 2-of-5 from the floor for five points with two rebounds. "I wasn’t mentally focused to do what I did. My jumper wasn’t falling but I thought I played good defense, played hard. Hopefully I get another chance to go out there and I’ll be mentally prepared.’’
Miami, once again, didn’t get much scoring from its bench on Saturday. After getting 20 bench points in Friday’s loss to Detroit, Miami got just 15 against the Bucks.
Harrellson led all bench scorers with five. Ray Allen (19:53) and Norris Cole (19:52) scored two points apiece.