Don’t use the work ‘tanking’ around the Miami Heat

The Heat have won two straight, including a victory Tuesday over the Rockers, who have the third best record in the NBA.  (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Heat have won two straight, including a victory Tuesday over the Rockets, who have the third best record in the NBA. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MIAMI – If “tanking” somehow has become synonymous with “rebuilding,” then, yeah, the Miami Heat are tanking.

But if it means the Heat are purposely trying to lose games, going through the motions, doing what they can to put themselves in a disadvantageous situation, then those subscribing to that theory are watching something much different than most.

All the jokes are out there about “tank-a-thon” and “tank-a-palooza.”

To that the Heat say – ‘no tanks.”

One thing is certain in this uncertain season, the Heat are playing hard, coach Erik Spoelstra is coaching with the same passion he did when his teams were playing in four consecutive trips to the Finals and nobody feels good walking off the court when Miami is on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

Those eight to 12 players who have been available each night are not concerned about the draft lottery or who might be available in free agency. For many of them, doing so would be committing career suicide.

“It’s an uniformed assumption,” Spoelstra said when asked to react to those who believe Miami is doing all it can to put a lesser product on the floor.

“If you know anything about our organization we’re not going to play for any other purpose or motivation than to win. Everything we’re building is trying to build habits to learn how to win but learning how oftentimes comes with frustration, anger, disappointment.”

Miami has been hit with a staggering number of injuries. The team has lost an NBA high 177 game to ailments and illness, a number that will grow by at least four every game for at least the next few weeks. And anybody who believes those injuries are somehow embellished has not been around these players, heard the disappointment in their voices or seen it in their faces as they walk around with different body parts in boots or slings or wrapped in ice.

If there is a way the Heat could be better now, win enough games to make a playoff run, Pat Riley is open for suggestions. Riley knew this was a rebuilding year, but the organization did not go into the year planning to cap their wins at about 30.

That said, they certainly are not going to sabotage the future by making moves to benefit the short term. But that’s not tanking. That’s just sound business.

“I don’t even listen,” guard Tyler Johnson said. “I know the guys here aren’t trying to do that. You’ve got guys on one-year deals who can’t afford to do that. People are going to say whatever they want about tanking. You can’t really listen to all that outside noise. I think if you did, you’d go a little crazy. We’re trying to get as many wins as we can.”

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Any notion the Heat are satisfied with coming close but falling short should have been dispelled the last two games.

An undermanned Heat team had their best game of the season Tuesday in a win over the Rockets, a team with the third-best record in the league.

Then Dallas, a team more on the Heat’s level, had Miami on the ropes Thursday after wiping out a seven-point fourth quarter deficit and tying the score with about six minutes to play. The Heat rallied and went on a 13-5 run before hanging on for a four-point win.

Now the 13-30 Heat are looking for a third consecutive win tonight at home against the Bucks.

The Heat are looking to develop a core group of players to move forward with, but not at the expense of winning. Not when Spoelstra routinely has his best players in the game during crunch time.

One question that often comes up is why does Luke Babbitt continue to start? Babbitt, though, has played 34 minutes the last two games combined while James Johnson and Tyler Johnson, who continue to come off the bench, have logged 63 and 62 respectively.

And the poster boy for all of this is Goran Dragic, who walks off the court every night exhausted and battered.

Udonis Haslem is in his 14th season in Miami. The Heat’s captain has been part of two major overhauls, the first coming when the team tumbled to 15 wins two years after winning its first NBA title and fully recovered three years later by signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

“We can’t focus on what people are saying on the outside,” Haslem said. “That’s somebody else’s opinion, people are entitled to that.

“We work hard every day. We put ourselves in positions to try to win basketball games. The record just hasn’t show the hard work we put in.”

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