Greg Cote

You like an underdog, America? Turn to the Miami Heat and its struggle to survive

Miami Heat's Goran Dragic (7) dives for the ball as Toronto Raptors' Norman Powell defends during the second half in Game 1 of a second round NBA basketball playoff series in Toronto on Tues., May 3, 2016.
Miami Heat's Goran Dragic (7) dives for the ball as Toronto Raptors' Norman Powell defends during the second half in Game 1 of a second round NBA basketball playoff series in Toronto on Tues., May 3, 2016. AP

They say it takes a village? For the Miami Heat at this point, it might take a vineyard.

Three years ago, three bottles of wine did the trick. Not this time — not in the dire shape this team finds itself.

It was during the 2013 NBA Finals, after a 113-77 blowout loss in San Antonio put the Heat down 2-1, when Pat Riley famously knocked on the door of Erik Spoelstra’s hotel suite bearing three bottles of wine and an offer of help.

“I was despondent,” Spoelstra admitted then. “Beside myself.”

Mentor and protégé broke down film for hours, the wine at a steady pour.

A key turned. Something clicked. Three wines turned into three wins as Miami went on to collect the second of two championships in the LeBron James era.

All Heat fans can hope now is that Riley knocked on the door of Spoelstra’s Toronto hotel suite late Wednesday night heroically carrying a giant vat of magic vino.

Here is the good news for Miami: Thirty NBA teams were dreaming as the season began, and it’s down to six or perhaps five teams still standing on this Friday the 13th — the Heat one of them. So that’s pretty good, right?

But from here none of the survivors faces the steep climb Miami does.

With Chris Bosh ruled out for the postseason, Hassan Whiteside (knee) still out and now perhaps no Luol Deng (wrist), either, that’s your entire starting frontcourt vanished by injuries. It leaves Spoelstra to play small-ball without a center, or to cobble a patchwork of minutes among Udonis Haslem, Amar’e Stoudemire and Josh McRoberts.

“We’re in a whatever-it-takes mentality right now,” Spoelstra said Thursday after returning to Miami.

From that unfavorable situation Miami must beat Toronto at home Friday night and then win a Game 7 on the road, which the Heat has never done in franchise history.

After that LeBron’s well-rested Cleveland Cavaliers would be waiting.

And after that Steph Curry’s mighty Golden State Warriors (presumably) would be your reward for advancing.

You like an underdog, America?

Adopt the Heat.

Spoelstra, of course, wants his team to have blinders on only for the essential game at hand.

“We’re focused on [Friday],” he said, “and not getting caught up in all the ups and downs and storylines.”

If Spoelstra wanted to ply psychology with his players he’d be well armed with ammo in the us-against-the-world or nobody-believes-in-us-but-us categories.

I’m not even sure most Heats fans really believe at this point.

Miami staved off two elimination games in the first round vs. Charlotte and now must beat back two more just to survive.

“This is how you grow as a team, when you face adversity and have to go through the uncomfortable times together,” Spoelstra said. “These series are built to push you and stress you and put you in uncomfortable situations.”

The playoffs have always been thus. The difference is, the Heat always felt like the favorite during the four LeBron years. This was the team piling the stress on opponents.

Now? Well, this has been an ugly more than artful playoffs for the Heat — or for what’s left of the Heat. Can’t say it’s been boring, though. For four years of the Big 3 era the early rounds were a perfunctory snooze; you woke up in the conference finals. Now you never leave the edge of your seat and the edge of your seat feels like a cliff. Every game night is a fight.

Now? Miami would have fashioned the biggest, most shocking surprise in NBA history if, despite its battered, depleted lineup, it won a Game 7 in Toronto, and then beat LeBron and the Cavs, and then somehow beat Curry and the Warriors.

It would be like nothing else we had ever experienced in South Florida sports. “Even we’re impressed,” the Dolphins’ ’72 Perfect Season would have to admit.

Even the Miracle On Ice would curtsy and step aside because Miami would have just accomplished the new definition of a sporting miracle.

Dream big, Miami. But fast, please, while you still can.

Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at MiamiHerald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.

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