Erik Spoelstra sees gains that will help Heat come playoff time

The Miami Heat started this trip with two straight losses and have lost nine in a row on the road, but coach Erik Spoelstra remains encouraged. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

LOS ANGELES – The Miami Heat enter tonight’s game at the Lakers having lost two straight to start this trip and nine in a row on the road, but coach Erik Spoelstra still believes his team is moving in the right direction.

The Heat (36-33) are in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and barring a complete collapse will return to the playoffs for the 12th time in the last 15 years. Miami is 5.5 games ahead of No. 9 Detroit.

But the goal is to move up. Miami is just a half game behind No. 7 Milwaukee, two games behind No. 6 Philadelphia and three games behind No. 5 Washington.

“Yes, I do, absolutely,” Spoelstra said when asked if he sees gains being made on this trip.

“The thing that we’ve been really focusing on is developing this muscle of resilience. The only way you actually get an opportunity to work on it is when you are going through things that aren’t necessarily going your way. We are getting better, we are getting stronger from this, and I truly believe that we’ll find the benefits of going through these kinds of games and the emotions and it’s a lot of teaching points, not only schematically, but also from a focus standpoint, attention to detail and emotional stability.”

The Heat started the trip with a 115-99 loss at Portland in which they cut a 19-point deficit to three with six minutes to play. Two nights later Miami fell at Sacramento, 123-119 in overtime, a game they trailed by 16 points in the fourth quarter, took a four-point lead and then were outscored 12-8 in overtime.

The Heat played the first game without Dwyane Wade (hamstring) and Hassan Whiteside (hip) and  against Sacramento were without Wade, Whiteside and Josh Richardson (foot). Wade and Whiteside are out tonight and Richardson is questionable.

“We’re going through all of those things you go through in close games,” Spoelstra said. “They feel like playoff games. Not everybody is going though games of that intensity and that type of consequence that our guys are feeling. We are getting better from it and I do believe we’ll get the benefit from that eventually.”

The Heat lead the league in ‘clutch games’ having played 46. They are 25-21. No other team has played more than 42.

[Heat taking high road, not blaming referees for losses despite missed calls that may have cost them two wins]

[Heat mailbag: What is best first-round matchup for Heat? Dwyane Wade’s role this summer]

[Heat hoping not to relive horror show as they try to snap 9-game road losing streak against fast-paced Lakers]

[Heat, Wayne Ellington set franchise records for 3-point attempts in loss at Kings. Did they shoot too many?]

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