Ethan J. Skolnick

Miami Heat can’t get sidetracked even as series has gone sideways

The makeup of the Miami Heat could change greatly if the team loses to the Charlotte Hornets in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
The makeup of the Miami Heat could change greatly if the team loses to the Charlotte Hornets in the first round of the NBA playoffs. AP

Can’t say Dwyane Wade didn’t warn you.

He knows, after all. In the era known as Heat A.D. — After Dwyane — Miami’s professional basketball team has played in 28 playoff series, prior to the present encounter with the Charlotte Hornets.

It has won 21.

Of those previous 28 series, 11 have been tied at two, just as this one is.

Of those 11, four were most similar to this one, with a 2-2-1-1-1 format for changing venues, and with both the Heat and the opponent (the 2004 New Orleans Hornets, 2004 Indiana Pacers, 2006 Chicago Bulls, 2012 Boston Celtics) each winning both games on its respective home floor. The Heat won three of those four, all but the one against Indiana. In that series 2004 Hornets, Wade’s first, Miami never won a road game, and still advanced.

So Wade understands how this sometimes can work — and, away from Miami, not work.

“As we said coming out of Miami, we were going to have to play different on the road to win these games,” Wade said. “We weren’t going to score 119 points on the road. We were going to have to find other ways to win.”

The Heat nearly did win Game 4, even after yielding another those maddening runs, during which virtually everyone ran fresh out of composure. This time it was 36-8 Hornets (”that pocket in the third quarter was just awful,” Wade said), but at least there was a 17-1 Heat response, a quickening pulse before the morbid, monotone beeping began.

And yes, maybe Miami will get a more favorable whistle at home, with a different officiating crew, though you should blow the whistle on anyone who does much whining about calls Jeremy Lin’s getting or Hassan Whiteside isn’t.

That goes for players.

And for fans, too.

Stop taking screen-shots of what the officials may have missed.

Start taking stock of how much that’s missing the point.

The reality is that — if the Heat is what it thinks it is — it should overcome whatever is occurring, to eliminate a good, but hardly great, opponent, especially since four of the potential seven games in this series are at home.

That opponent has no one who have ever made an All-Star team, even if Kemba Walker was strongly considered this season.

That opponent was missing its most versatile player on both ends (Nicholas Batum) for Games 3 and 4.

That opponent has just one player (Courtney Lee) who has been to an NBA Finals, as a 2008-09 rookie, and just three others (Spencer Hawes, Marvin Williams, Tyler Hansbrough, Jeremy Lamb) who have advanced out of the first round, all as peripheral parts.

That opponent had to evalute Frank Kaminsky, one of the 2015 draft’s more underwhelming selections so far, to the starting lineup in Batum’s absence.

If the Heat can’t eliminate that opponent, it makes you wonder which players Pat Riley will eliminate from the roster. Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow, with the latter showing some spunk late Monday, will return on friendly contracts. Udonis Haslem likely will, for old time’s sake. Amar’e Stoudemire should, if he’s willing to take the minimum again. Joe Johnson, whose imminent return will offer another floor-stretching option, can be signed above the salary cap due to a unique exception.

And yes, Wade will return, of course.

But the Heat, which must apply $23.7 million — or roughly one-quarter of its salary cap — for Chris Bosh, even if he isn’t able to play. (As the Herald reported Saturday, he has no plans to retire, and his salary slot wouldn’t be removed from this offseason even if he did). So Miami has just $40 million cleared to retain Wade, Whiteside, Luol Deng, Johnson and outside free agents. Even if that number swells to $46 million by dealing Josh McRoberts without taking anything back, it’s hard to see how the Heat accommodates everyone.

It’s harder to see why Riley will want to, if the Heat can’t beat this Charlotte crew. A loss might make him wonder whether he can commit close to $20 million annually to Whiteside, if Whiteside can’t overcome frustration with playoff fouls, however unfair some might seem. A loss might make Riley rethink Deng’s fit — even as the veteran’s averaged 20.3 points on 54 percent shooting in this series — with Bosh’s potential return crowding the frontcourt rotation. A loss might put Goran Dragic in play for a trade, if the point guard can’t play Kemba Walker at something close to par. A loss might put Johnson, sometimes a step slow on the defensive side, out of the picture entirely.

And a loss might even make Riley reconsider Wade’s role as an ongoing fulcrum, if Wade cannot flash more of his former self, even for short stretches.

“You’ve got two teams with identical records,” Johnson explained the struggle of this series.

Both 48-34 in the regular season, 2-2 in the playoffs.

But they are not in identical organizations, or situations. To paraphrase Wade, this is a series that the Heat must find a way to win. Before more is lost.

The Ethan Skolnick Show airs every weekday on 790 The Ticket from 4-7 p.m. Twitter: @EthanJSkolnick

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