Take a look at last night’s Miami Heat contest with the, at the time, 4-27 Washington Wizards and you get the impression of another easy blowout.
It’s actually quite the contrary. Although the Heat ended up defeating the Wizards by 28 points, it took a 21-0 run over the final seven minutes for Miami to actually pull away. The Heat had a number of attempts to pull away throughout the game, but ran into that lingering problem of losing focus when given the chance to deliver the dagger. Before the run that ended it, the Wizards had cut a 14-point lead in half with seven minutes remaining in the final frame.
Before then, the Heat had only outscored the Wizards by one point in the second and third quarters. A first quarter where the Heat started out making their first six shots, as well as one where the Wizards didn’t convert a field-goal in the half-court until the 7:38 mark, aided in keeping the margin in healthy territory hovering around the 8-12 mark for the rest of the contest until the Heat clamped down on defense and made it a blowout.
It was a sigh of relief seeing the Heat blowout an inferior opponent. To say the least, Miami has been playing some mediocre, less than encouraging basketball over the past few weeks. Their win against the Wizards was the first time since a December 26th win over Charlotte where they didn’t need an overtime to come away with a victory.
In between then were two road losses to Detroit (13-23) and Milwaukee (16-16), two extremely fortunate wins against Orlando (12-21) and Dallas (13-21), and an embarrassment of a loss at home to Chicago (18-13). The Heat fell to the Bulls by seven points, but never really had a chance considering the ghastly lack of effort on the boards, which was won by Chicago by a 48-28 margin.
And we’re supposed to be satisfied with a win against the Wizards that wasn’t decided until midway through the fourth quarter?
It’s no secret the Heat could care less about the regular season. They’ve secured the second seed in consecutive seasons and would most likely be on their way to another, if not for the joke the Eastern Conference has become with the age of the Boston Celtics catching up on them and Derrick Rose’s injury hampering the Bulls.
At the moment, it’s a two-way race between the Heat and New York Knicks for the first seed, who are 5-5 in their past ten games because they’re beginning to realize that jump shots don’t fall for 82 consecutive games. Miami currently holds a half-game lead over the Knicks, but that slim lead will be put to the test with the Heat hitting the road for a six-game road trip that starts in Indiana on Tuesday.
This is the second lengthy road-trip of the year for the Heat. They went 4-2 on an arduous trip at the beginning of the season that included losses to Memphis and the L.A. Clippers, and wins against the likes of Houston, Denver, and Atlanta. The current trip they’re facing isn’t as compact, but it does feature several challenges that includes a back-to-back against an up-and-coming Golden State team and a big L.A. Lakers team.
Other challengers include the Pacers, Portland, Sacramento and Utah. The Pacers, Warriors and Trail Blazers are the only teams with a winning record, but the Kings, Lakers and Jazz still present a challenge with their size. Earlier in the year, Miami defeated the Jazz in a blowout at home and lost a heartbreaker to the Warriors, also coming at home.
The Miami Heat is an interesting team. There are some games where you wonder if there is any team capable of stopping them (as seen in their win against Oklahoma City), but there are also instances where you actually begin to think if they’re even capable of making it back to the championship, which is what losing to the likes of Washington and Detroit can do to your name.
In the past few weeks, we’ve been getting the bizarro Heat. The effort is lacking, rebounding has become a serious issue, there doesn’t always appear to be a rhyme or reason to the offense and defense, and the shooters are having a wee bit of trouble making their shots; the usual type of reasons that get the fanbase into hysterics and crying for the head of Erik Spoelstra.
The Heat are going to perform well on this road trip if they want to. It’s not up to anybody else but them. If they want to live up to their billing as one of the NBA’s best defenses over the past three years, then they’ll do so. The problem is that motivation is thin, which is natural when you’re on top.
We see that lack of motivation at all aspects of life, especially in the music industry. When 50 Cent made it big with ‘Get Rich or Die Trying’, is it any surprise that his next albums were not even near as good? Of course not. He made it to the top and didn’t have the same hunger he possessed when trying to break the seal and getting that first mainstream album.
Same goes for Kanye West. None of his albums can even compare, lyrically speaking, to his first album: The College Dropout.
This is what it appears the Heat are going through. If you thought they were unmotivated last regular season, then you’re going to get that and then some since they are the reigning NBA champions. You’ll see them play like a postseason team in bouts with the likes of Oklahoma City, but how do you get them motivated and excited for a December game against Orlando or a January game against Washington?
What could motivate the Heat going into this two-week long trip is the fact that they’re a pedestrian 7-6 on the road. This is a team that loved to play on the road in years past. They fed off the crowd’s jeering and disdain, leading to memorable performances such as LeBron James’ 38 points in 30 minutes in his return to Cleveland.
In their first year, they were league-leading 28-13 on the road, which was followed up by an above-average 18-15 in the lockout-shortened 2011-’12 season.
Needless to say, 7-6 on the road isn’t the record of a champion. Take a look at past NBA champions and you’ll see a trend of how well they have played on the road. The 2011 Dallas Mavericks went 28-13, the 2010 L.A. Lakers were 23-18, the 2009 Lakers finished 28-13, the 2008 Boston Celtics were a staggering 31-10, the 2007 San Antonio Spurs were 27-14, the 2006 Miami Heat were 21-20, the 2005 Spurs went 21-20, the 2004 Detroit Pistons went 23-18, and the 2003 Spurs were 27-14.
With the exception of the ’06 Heat (who won solely because Dwyane Wade ended up having one of the best individual NBA Finals performances of all time) and the ’05 Spurs, eight of the past ten NBA champions have either been above-average or elite on the road.
This is the time for the Heat to separate themselves from the rest of the pack, and become that feared road team that has represented the East the past two years. Average road teams that win the title are rare. While this Heat team isn’t exactly like any other, it’s still a significant confident boost to win games in hostile environments in the regular season and then transition that to the postseason when crowds become even more ravenous.
The Heat have proven to win games with jeering crowds in pressure-filled moments (Game 6 against Boston and Game 2 against Oklahoma City). However, even in the regular season this team has beaten quality opponents on the road in the past. Unless you want to count second-round fodder such as Atlanta or Denver a quality opponent, then the Heat have yet to win a statement game on the road.
And they’ve had their chances. It’s only disappointing that they ended losing to New York by 20, Memphis by 18, and the Clippers by seven (the final score isn’t indicative of how badly the Heat were outplayed in the second half). They have a chance over the next two weeks to put an end to that as they visit hostile environments in Utah and Portland, as well as that back-to-back in California.
It’s only the regular season, and nobody knows that more than the Heat, but we have yet to see the Heat team that has actually thrived playing on the road as we’ve seen from the past two championship-contending teams.