May 21, 2018
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Heat hope a return home fixes what ails them

By Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press

MIAMI — When Monday’s film session and court work were completed on the Heat practice floor, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade huddled with coach Erik Spoelstra and assistant David Fizdale for a chat.

Everyone took a turn talking, everyone took a turn nodding.

“We’d be lying to ourselves,” Wade said afterward, “if we said we were playing our best basketball right now.”

Even if they did say that, no one would believe them. Not after seven losses in their last 10 road games, the last three of those defeats all by at least 15 points, capped by rock-bottom for this season so far, a 19-point loss at Boston on Sunday where Miami set season-lows for points, field-goal percentage, free throws made and free-throw percentage.

The Heat have won 15 straight at home, the NBA’s longest such streak this season, and start a five-game homestand on Tuesday against Philadelphia. Oklahoma City — which embarrassed the Heat last week — comes in on Wednesday, followed by games with Memphis on Friday, Detroit on Sunday and then the Celtics again next Tuesday.

If there’s a time for the Heat to get rolling again, it might be now.

“It’s not about talk. It’s not about whatever the perceptions are out there,” Spoelstra said Monday. “We’re not a perfect team, like a lot of teams out there. Yesterday was unacceptable and today we worked as a group to fix it and to make it better.”

Spoelstra used that same word — unacceptable — after Sunday’s loss.

By then, his mind was made up that even with another hectic week ahead, the Heat couldn’t afford to use Monday as an off day. There’s simply too much for them to address.

“It’s not like we’re hitting the panic button,” James said. “He’s saying it’s unacceptable and we’ve got to own up to it. We’ve got a veteran ballclub and we know we can’t play that way, offensively or defensively.”

Miami entered Monday 3-1/2 games behind Chicago in the race for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls and Heat play twice more before the playoffs begin, and Miami is two games behind Chicago in the loss column. Oklahoma City came into Monday 2-1/2 games ahead of Miami in the race for the best overall record, with San Antonio just a half-game behind the Heat.

With 15 games left in the regular season, Miami still insists there’s more than enough time to get things back on track. And in James’ mind, that’s more vital than anything related to how the playoff brackets shake out.

“Right now it’s not even about seeding for us,” James said. “We have to play better.”

Like every coach, Spoelstra preaches about consistency.

Pleading for it might be the better description these days.

In the past month, the Heat averaged 92.9 points on the road, shooting just under 45 percent. At home, those numbers rise to 97.7 points on nearly 49 percent shooting. The most glaring difference is the one Spoelstra probably ranks as the most important — in Miami, the Heat allowed 86 points per game in the past month, a far cry from the 95.1 they yielded away from home.

“We’re much better than that,” Spoelstra said. “We’re a tale of two teams sometimes and we’re going to work and change that.”

It would take an unforeseeable collapse for Miami to finish any worse than No. 2 in the East, though James and Chris Bosh both said that the memories of being able to win a conference-final series against Chicago last year without the benefit of home-court advantage mean nothing to the Heat now.

“We just have to get back to our spacing, get back to our spots on the floor,” Bosh said. “We’re focused and we know what we’re doing.”

The one thing that is consistent with the Heat: Confidence isn’t lacking.

James has been banged up for a couple weeks, Mike Miller remains sidelined with a sprained ankle and Bosh managed only four points in the Boston game, tying a season-low. James says he’s seeing gradual improvement, health-wise. Miller may be back soon. Bosh still insists Miami is the NBA’s best team, saying he will not waver on that claim.

Maybe a week of home cooking is all they’ll need.

“It’s the time of the year where if you’re having problems and things are going wrong you have to figure it out,” Wade said. “You don’t want to limp into the playoffs playing your worst. You want to go into the playoffs playing your best.”

NBA NOTEBOOK: Cavaliers coach Byron Scott has no doubt Kyrie Irving should be the NBA’s rookie of the year. “None whatsoever,” he said. He’s not so certain when Irving will play again. Wearing an elastic brace on his sprained right shoulder, Irving was limited in practice on Monday and remains questionable for Tuesday night’s game against the San Antonio Spurs. Irving did not take part in any contact drills during the workout as he recovers from an injury sustained during the Cavs’ 37-point loss to Milwaukee on Friday. Scott rested his star in New York on Saturday and may choose to sit him again. “I don’t think there’s any need to put him in harm’s way,” Scott said. “If there still is an issue with it as far as pain or soreness, it doesn’t benefit him to get out there and get that thing reinjured and miss the rest of the season or anything like that.” As Scott provided an update on Irving’s condition, the precocious 20-year-old took a break from a post-practice shooting drill to join the media half-circle around his coach. Irving put on a pair of headphones and peered through a TV camera’s lens at Scott. “Are you recording this?” Scott asked his point guard. “Sounds good,” Irving said. Irving was in good spirits and appeared ready to return to the floor to help the Cavs, who have dropped seven straight games, nine of 10 and faded from the playoff picture after being in contention just a few weeks ago.

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