Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra still searching for answers; he better find them before it’s too late

NEW YORK – When the Miami Heat walked off their home court less than two weeks ago having been embarrassed by Indiana, they appeared to have hit rock bottom.

Then came Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

The way the Heat played in a 115-86 beat down by the Knicks, that Pacers loss (120-95) has competition for the season’s low point.

One thing the Heat can say about their trip to New York – They were consistent. … consistently bad.

Often teams – even bad teams – throw in at least one quarter where it shows a pulse, appears engaged and as if it really cares. Even Miami did that the previous night, cutting a 34-point deficit in Cleveland to a very deceiving 109-97 final. In fact, the Heat held the Cavs to 33 points in the second half, outscoring them by 15.

Something to come away feeling good about.

But playing without center and defensive anchor Hassan Whiteside, who was resting his problematic left knee, Miami showed none of that fight against the Knicks 24 hours later. The Heat were outscored in every quarter, allowing the Knicks – who played without the league’s fourth leading scorer, Kristaps Porzingis, for all but 2:30 after he sprained his right ankle – to shoot at least 52 percent during each 12-minute stanza.

New York’s shooting percentage by quarter: First – 63.6. Second – 52.6. Third – 57.1. Fourth – 66.7.

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, shown here Tuesday in Cleveland, is searching for answers after watching his team get blown out on consecutive nights by the Cavaliers and Knicks. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The Heat shot 42.1 percent in the second and third quarters, started the game making just 27.3 percent of their shots in the first 12 minutes and ended it shooting 36.4 percent in the final quarter.

“We just look like some games we have a lot of energy and come out battling, but some games. … I don’t know how to describe it,” said tri-captain Goran Dragic, who finds himself in a mini slump having scored 13 points on 4-of-17 shooting in the first two games after he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

“It’s disturbing because this is our job and you want to be hungry. Every game should be like that. You should think like it’s your last game. If you relax too much then those kind of games are going to happen like (the last two).”

It took that home meltdown against the Pacers for the Heat to show some life, although it was short lived. Miami came out three days later – after two difficult days of which James Johnson said about Erik Spoelstra’s practices that he would have rather been in training camp – and ended the Celtics’ 16-game winning streak. Then, with the exception of trailing 2-0, Miami led wire-to-wire at Minnesota, a talented team among the top five in the difficult Western Conference.

It is that lack of consistency that has Spoelstra, his coaches, his players and certainly the architect of this team, Pat Riley, stumped.

“I’m not sure,” Spoelstra said Wednesday when asked how his team can so quickly forget those lessons it learned following that Indiana game.

“But we’ll just have to continue to address it and work on it. It’s something that this team will overcome and the sooner the better. But we will overcome it, because we have shown that we can play much, much better basketball, regardless of whether Hassan’s playing or not. We just weren’t able to put it together tonight.”

And just as I wrote following that debacle against the Pacers, this is not 2016-17 when after 21 games the Heat had the third worst record in the conference and were in a free fall that would result in four wins in the next five weeks.

Miami is 10-11 and is one of six teams bunched within a game and a half of each other in the middle of the conference standings.

But 2016-17 constantly is on the minds of the players, as it should be. Miami found a magic potion last season, making up 19 games in the second half of the season to finish 41-41. But those types of recoveries are once in a career for most players. This team, with much higher expectations than the one that was thrown together in the summer of 2016 after Dwyane Wade bolted for Chicago, must have a much more desperate approach.

“The season goes by fast and we don’t want to be in the same situation as last year and you have to win every game until the end,” Dragic said. “We have to figure out this thing quick and just bring that energy every night. If you play hard and you lose, you can check yourself in the mirror and say they were just better. But if you don’t give everything you’ve got you can’t say that.”

[Heat’s Udonis Haslem on what he’ll do with Dwyane Wade’s Cavaliers jersey: ‘I’m going to wash it first’]

[While Ray Allen complains about being overworked, Dwyane Wade says Heat ‘got the best out of me’]

 

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