MIAMI — Inconsistency has been the consistent theme of the Heat’s season.
Through 16 games, Miami is 7-9. But it’s not the record that has left Heat coaches and players frustrated, it’s their lack of consistency that has many of them searching for answers.
Just take a look at this statistical fact: Miami entered Monday as the league’s sixth-best first-half team in terms of plus-minus at plus-44 and also the league’s worst second-half team at minus-87.
And the consistency issues aren’t just popping up within games, it’s also a game-to-game problem. The Heat looked like a totally different team in Sunday’s 120-95 loss to the Pacers than the one that earned an impressive road win over the Wizards on Friday.
“It happens. We have to take it for what it was, not making any excuse for it,” Heat tri-captain James Johnson said when asked how the team can look so different in a two-day span. “We played poorly. We didn’t have no heart that game and they exposed that. But, like I said, those kinds of games happen. We just can’t let ’em repeat or we can’t let ’em happen again.”
So the Heat returned to AmericanAirlines Arena on Monday and went through “a grueling, dog-eat-dog practice” to try to correct their issues.
“I don’t think we had time to really be emotional about it,” Johnson said after Monday’s practice. “No one in that locker is feeling sorry for ourselves or each other. Today was a grueling, dog-eat-dog practice. And it was full of no excuses.”
No excuses because the problem is obvious. The Heat have been wildly inconsistent this season.
“We just have to be able to sustain it for 48 minutes,” veteran forward Udonis Haslem said. “It’s not physical. It’s mental for us. We’ve got to be able to sustain intensity and focus for 48 minutes understanding that even though the game of basketball is emotional and it goes up and down, we still have to stay even throughout the course of the game. That’s one thing we’ve struggled with is during the course when emotions go up and down, we let our emotions go up and down.
“The things I’ve always been able to do in my career no matter how the game was going, I was able to stay emotionally stable. Even if I got a tech, I was able to snap back into it and stay focused. It’s part of the learning curve and learning ourselves. We have to understand that if we don’t get a call or there’s a bad play or if we go five, six minutes with offense and the shots aren’t falling, we still have to be emotionally stable.”
In Sunday’s loss to the Pacers, the Heat’s consistency issues arrived in the third quarter. Miami was outscored 32-13 in the period and has now been outscored by a combined total of 59 points in the third quarter this season.
“You have to credit other teams for stepping up. But, look, I don’t know,” coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked about the Heat’s poor play in third quarters. “Maybe the next game, on Wednesday, we won’t even go into the locker room and just stay out there and just warm up for 12 minutes. Because often we’re playing good basketball in the second quarter. And then we go in there, relax and get out of that mindset of real competition. It’s just something we’ll have to get better at and correct.”
With 11 players returning from last year’s season-ending roster, there’s a belief that the Heat should be over these consistency problems by now. But guard Dion Waiters made it clear this year’s team is different than the one that posted a 30-11 record over the final 41 games last season.
“It’s not the same,” Waiters said. “You’ve still got to fill it up. It’s not how it was last year. We’ve got to take steps and go back. I always go back and see and watch what worked for us last year. But that’s last year, it’s all in the past. Just because you have the same team, almost, it doesn’t mean anything. It don’t guarantee anything, either. So, like I’ve said, the lineups have been different. You’ve got to figure it out, if that’s really possible. But you’ve got to do it quick.”
Very quick because the Heat don’t want to blink and find themselves in the 11-30 hole they dug for themselves last season. Miami’s next chance to turn things around will come Wednesday when it faces the hot Boston Celtics at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“These are the times that define whether you make it in the playoffs by a little bit or not,” Johnson said. “We shouldn’t be in these predicaments or this position, but we are. And we’re going to deal with it internally like we always do.”