Practice makes perfect, but what happens once perfection is reached?
The Miami Heat don't need to keep going over their steps. They've nailed this dance before, all the way to the championship podium in each of the last two seasons, in fact.
There's still a motivation for greatness, a drive to climb back up to the mountaintop. But the actual rewards won't show up months.
The championship grind is a tale of two seasons, and Miami is well-versed in this narrative. The Heat haven't even started their jog—let alone their top-shelf sprint—toward the podium and may not start either for months.
There is no way for this team to trick itself. Wake-up calls cannot change where the calendar sits:
Sleepwalking through some games is nothing new for Miami. But it doesn't always even try to flip the switch to steal a come-from-behind win anymore.
Before, the Heat made a slightly reckless but ultimately successful strategy out of hitting the snooze button during games. They climbed back from seven double-digit deficits during their blistering 27-game winning streak last season alone.
Either they're missing the alarm this season or they're just opting not to set it some nights. Of Miami's 10 losses this season, only two have come against teams with a winning record (Indiana Pacers and Golden State Warriors).
Sometimes this group gets hit and simply doesn't bother to hit back.
But it already knows where it stands. And it knows that regular-season streaks, slumps or anything in between won't change that position.
Rarely has Miami puts its best foot forward this season. Without fully committing, the Heat still own the league's fifth-best winning percentage (.730) and fourth-best net rating (plus-7.5 points per 100 possessions), per NBA.com/stats.
People can point to Indiana's size or the Western Conference's depth as the biggest obstacles for Miami's three-peat bid, but the Heat know better.
As LeBron James told ESPN's Brian Windhorst, the Heat won't encounter a bigger challenge than the one working its way through this locker room:
It's a long and grueling season for all of us. We've played a lot of basketball in our four years together and it's taken a lot of wear and tear on our bodies. Mentally it is fatiguing. We’re trying to find the motivation the best way we can as a group.
Motivation would be nice. A clean bill of health would be even better.
If you want to know how much the regular season does (or doesn't) mean to Miami, look no further than its preservation plan for aging star Dwyane Wade.
The Heat have held their second-best player out of nine games already this season due to knee soreness. For someone requiring this kind of maintenance, he looks remarkably fit when he takes the floor: 19.6 points on 54.5 percent shooting, 4.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.9 steals per game.
When he doesn't go, Miami looks lost without him. The Heat are 23-5 when he suits up and 4-5 when he sits.
But Miami isn't going to deviate from its plan just to salvage a handful of regular-season wins. Wade will get as much time off as he needs, probably more than he wants, before the second season starts.
Why? Because the second season will start at some point for Miami. Surely as nothing worse than the No. 2 seed in the East, the conference where a passing participation grade comes with a postseason spot.
Would Miami like to be working out of the No. 1 overall seed? Of course. No team better grasps the potential payoff of hosting a Game 7.
But do the Heat need to be sitting in that top spot? Of course not.
They've held the No. 1 seed just once in the last three seasons—and made an NBA Finals run in each of them. They have the fifth-best road winning percentage in 2013-14 (.611) and drubbed the Pacers by 18 points inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Game 3 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals.
It's not as if Miami leaves South Florida and suddenly doesn't have a two-year hold on the Association. Or the best player on the planet.
The regular season is, at best, a tune-up for Miami. This team knows its motor runs better than any it will see on the path to the podium. There's only so much maintenance you can give a pristine machine.
So, will Miami ever wake up from this malaise? I'll just say this—B/R's Miami Heat Lead Writer Ethan Skolnick said the Heat should welcome a matchup with the Empire State just to make sure they get up for the opening round of the playoffs:
The Heat need a little New York in the first round, if for no other reason than to jar them from what figures to be a regular season-long slumber, with their standing in the conference (second at worst) already secured. It would at least feel like the playoffs had started, like the Heat need to start finding that switch they always eventually flip. It would at least qualify as a series the Heat would take somewhat seriously.
How much does the regular season mean to Miami at this point?
Outside of getting and staying healthy, nothing at all.
The Heat have memorized their lines; they know all the moves like the back of their hands.
They're just waiting for their (next) turn under the spotlight.
*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of NBA.com.
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