Barry Jackson

For most Heat players, the NBA All-Star break is coming at the right time

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) breaks away from Philadelphia 76ers’ Richaun Holmes (22) and Ben Simmons in Philadelphia’s 104-102 win against the Heat on Wednesday.
Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) breaks away from Philadelphia 76ers’ Richaun Holmes (22) and Ben Simmons in Philadelphia’s 104-102 win against the Heat on Wednesday. AP

Just three weeks ago, the Heat was a couple of missed three-pointers away from potentially moving into third in the Eastern Conference and moving nine games over .500.

Aside from the spirit-lifting acquisition of Dwyane Wade, very little has gone right since.

Miami enters the All-Star break this weekend in a vastly different predicament, clinging to eighth in the East — just 1.5 games ahead of No. 9 Detroit — after a stretch of seven losses in eight games.

“It’s disappointing; we all feel that way right now,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, his team at 30-28 and off until a February 23 game at New Orleans.

“Two or three days from now we’ll probably be able to find a little bit of perspective and then five or six days from now we’ll be itching to get back together with this group and then get back to work and start to hone in to make a big push the last [28] games.

“The last two weeks our guys have been very emotionally engaged in this season. Each one of these games has been like a playoff game. We dropped seven of eight of them. That has an effect on your emotions. You try and stay steady though it and we’ll be better in these situations. But probably the timing is good for all of us, just get away, unplug.”

Even after squandering a 24-point lead in Wednesday’s loss in Philadelphia, the Heat emerged with a positive outlook, with Spoelstra saying “we’re a very good team” and Wade echoing the exact same sentiment and adding “we’ve got everything we need” from a roster standpoint.

Still, a different problem has arisen seemingly every game in this 1-7 stretch. On several nights, Miami misfired badly on threes. Second-half collapses were an issue against Orlando and Philadelphia.

Rebounding was dismal against the 76ers, with Miami finishing with a minus-31 deficit on the boards. Even in the one game Miami won during this stretch — against Milwaukee — it shot its lowest percentage in a victory in eight years (36.4).

And here’s one common theme: After playing like one of the best teams in the league late in close games through mid-January, the Heat has faltered down the stretch in recent weeks, losing seven games by six or fewer points since Jan. 25, including five by three or less.

“We’ve been in a lot of clutch situations,” James Johnson said. “There has got to be a point where we break through. We are going to have to figure that out after the break.”

Goran Dragic, the Heat’s lone representative in Sunday’s All-Star game, said the break comes at a good time. 

“If you lose seven out of eight, I think that’s a good time,” he said. “Just try to put your mind in something different, try to relax and then when you come back, you’re eager to work and try to get better. We’re still in the playoffs, so we need to look positive, because we can make a run. Most of the teams, they would want to be in this position that we are.”

Reasons for optimism? Kelly Olynyk and Rodney McGruder are expected back soon after the All-Star break, which will give Miami 12 rotation-caliber players and some tough rotation decisions for Spoelstra. And Wade will continue to become more comfortable in the system.

“Of course, they’re going to help you,” Dragic said of Olynyk and McGruder. “Dwyane is going to know the system a little bit better, and that’s going to help us a lot.”

Wade said “it [stinks] for me that the All-Star break is coming now, trying to get to the rhythm of the team and try to get into [Miami Heat-type game] shape.... [Wednesday] was the best I felt physically. ... Now we take a week off. It’s a little tough from that standpoint but mentally it’s needed. It’s going to be good. Losing seven of the last eight, is definitely a good time to reset and come back with a fresh mind and a shorter schedule to know we’ve got to get to it.

“And we’re playing for something. We’re playing for the playoffs. It’s going to be high-intensity basketball first game back.”

Though he isn’t playing in the All-Star Game, Wade will spend some time in Los Angeles this weekend as well as “making sure we move all of our stuff out of Cleveland, some of the stuff back to Miami.”

Another source of encouragement from a glass-half-full perspective: James Johnson’s play in recent weeks.

“I’d love for him to build on this,” Spoelstra said. “I think Dwyane will also help him get to his strengths and also he can put the ball in Dwyane’s hands to make some decisions so James can just be a force of nature. I think that what you saw the last couple of games.​” 

Though Spoelstra wants his players to get a break mentally before they reconvene for their next practice on Wednesday, he made clear that he wants his players “conditioning. They don’t have to see a basketball court. [But] hopefully they’ll find time for a treadmill the next few days and find some beach time as well.”