No NBA team has been under more late-game pressure than the Miami Heat this season.
The Heat has played in a league-high 42 clutch games - five more than the team with the next-most, the Brooklyn Nets with 37.
The NBA defines clutch games as those in which the margin has been five points or fewer during the final five minutes of a game.
The Heat (30-29) entered Saturday’s home contest against the Memphis Grizzlies 23-19 in such games, but having gone 1-8 over its past nine.
Miami carried a franchise-record streak of 17 consecutive games decided by single-digit margins - three games short of the NBA record streak set by the 1982-83 Indiana Pacers – into Saturday night’s game.
So is playing so many games down-to-the-wire a good thing?
"It can be," Dwyane Wade said. "It’s going to be one of two things. At the end of the season, you’re either going to look back and say, ‘We could have won a couple of those close ones.’ Or you’re going to look back and say because you’re in the playoffs, now you’re battle tested. We got to, obviously, look and see a few things that we can do differently because we all can, especially offensively."
Wade hit a pair of go-ahead shots in overtime, but missed a third in the closing seconds as the Heat ultimately suffered a 124-123 loss to the Pelicans.
The Heat opened the season as one of the league’s best clutch teams with a 22-11 record in such games before its current slump began that has dropped Miami to eighth-place in the Eastern Conference with a tenuous 1½-game lead over the Detroit Pistons and two or more games behind the rest of the teams ahead of them after Friday’s games.
Of the Heat’s past 24 games, 23 have been decided by nine points or less.
Miami has lost its past three by a combined six points.
Injuries and rotation changes have played a factor with Kelly Olynyk (left shoulder strain) still sidelined and Wade getting acclimated with his new teammates.
"The fight is there," Wade said. "We know that. We just got to find a way to come up with the win. [The Pelicans] made some tough shots. We did a few things defensively that we would have loved to get back. But you know what, as a team you got to go through it, too. It’s unfortunate that in this playoff race that we got to go through these tough moments. We got to learn from it and move on quickly and be able to make the adjustments so when we get back in that same position in another game, that we do something a little differently to come out with the win."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra saw progress despite the loss pointing out a 70-62 edge in points in the paint over a tough New Orleans frontcourt led by Anthony Davis, whose 45 points were the most against Miami this season by an opposing player.
"You have to forge ahead, regardless of what emotions you're feeling, frustrating, all these moments can benefit us," Spoelstra said. "I truly believe they will. We're so close to getting over this hump. It's just not happening on our time right now. And I know time is important, but we're playing better basketball. I don't even know what to tell the team. Tonight, it really felt in so many ways we deserved to win, but you are whatever the final score says you are at the end. So we just have to gather ourselves. There were some teachable moments in this game going down the stretch and get on the plane, go back to Miami and get ready for a big game in front of our home fans."