If there was ever a reason to start, though, this would seem to be it.
The Heat (27-11) are riding a regular-season three-game skid for the first time since Jan. 10-13, 2012. Their 22-game winning streak against Southeast Division opponents unceremoniously ended with Wednesday's worse-than-it-sounds 114-97 loss to the Washington Wizards.
Have the invincible suddenly become vulnerable? Is Miami's two-year stranglehold on the Association really losing its grip?
"That's still the best team," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said, per Joseph White of the Associated Press (via NBA.com), after his team dealt Miami a double-digit defeat during a game in which they led by as many as 34 points.
Clearly, Wittman isn't concerned. Neither are the Heat. Nor should any of us be.
The Heat are just trapped in a slump at a time they know all too well that slumping is allowed.
What's Been the Problem?
A little bit of everything to be honest.
The offense has stalled, the ball isn't moving, the defense has leaked and the tempo has nearly halted. The Heat aren't dodging blows, nor throwing any of their own.
|Three Long Nights: Breaking Down Miami's Losing Streak|
|Off Rtg||Def Rtg||Ast %||Pace|
|First 35 Games||109.7||101.3||60.5||95.54|
|Last Three Games||101.9||116.8||56.5||86.13|
But the calendar has more to do with this daze than anything.
We've seen this act before. Miami's midseason malaise has been an annual tradition.
The Heat dropped six of 10 games from Dec. 28 to Jan. 14 last season. Less than three weeks later, they began their blistering 27-game winning streak.
They split the first eight games of 2012. Then, they rattled off eight victories in their last nine games.
The Heat suffered four straight losses in early January 2011 and started a five-game skid at the end of February. They closed that season with 15 wins in their last 18 games.
Miami knows it can snap out of this funk. It's done it so many times before.
"We love adversity more than anything," LeBron James, via White. "We're definitely at that point."
Translation? There's nothing to see here, folks.
For all intents and purposes, Miami knows where it will be come playoff time. The No. 1 seed is still within reach—the Heat are 3.5 games back of the Indiana Pacers—but it's clearly a bigger goal in the Circle City than it is in South Beach.
There's a reason the Heat suffered their worst regular-season losing streak in more than two years and all game recaps are leading with the return of former No. 1 pick Greg Oden. This team won't start writing its story for another few months.
The league knows that, and so do the Heat.
At What Point Should It Be a Concern?
Barring injury, nothing short of a monumental collapse would ruffle any feathers in South Florida.
The Heat have two regular-season priorities—staying healthy and finding the most effective rotation. The first is the biggest hurdle and could wind up being the deciding factor in this championship race.
Norris Cole is the only player to have appeared in each of Miami's 38 games. Dwyane Wade's knees have already cost him nine games, and the 10th could be coming soon as the Heat head out for back-to-back road games this weekend. Mario Chalmers (strained Achilles) has missed four straight and Chris Andersen (knee) sat out the loss in Washington.
Wade is an indispensable piece of Miami's puzzle. He can't play as many games as he used to, but when he's healthy, he can still leave the same kind of imprint on the outcome.
Two players are averaging at least 19 points, four rebounds and four assists and shooting 50 percent from the field this season. Miami has both of them—Wade and James.
James can work magic on the hardwood, but he can't travel down the path to the podium by himself.
As for Oden, whose last regular-season appearance before Wednesday came on Dec. 5, 2009, he's as big as a question mark can get. Getting him back on the court was a challenge; keeping him there is an even taller task.
"I don't want to just get out there and then get injured again," Oden said, via B/R's Ethan Skolnick. "My thing is to make sure I can keep playing games."
Just like Miami's top gear, Oden isn't needed now. That's just as well, since his medical history leaves him well short of dependable.
Ideally, the 7-footer is able to serve in spot duty come postseason time. He might not fit with Miami's spread attack, but he's best equipped to deal with the Heat's biggest headache—Pacers center Roy Hibbert:
There's still some tweaking to be done with this rotation. Coach Erik Spoelstra is still finding out which players fit in best and where.
Rashard Lewis started five straight games before seeing less than a minute after Shane Battier returned on Wednesday. Michael Beasley has played as many as 20 minutes and as few as seven over his last five outings. Udonis Haslem started Miami's first six games this season, but has made just three appearances in 2014. Newcomer Toney Douglas, acquired in a three-team trade on Wednesday, gives Spoelstra yet another option.
The Heat know they can peak higher than any of their opponents. They also understand the importance of playing their best basketball down the stretch.
Just How Long Will These Struggles Last?
Until Miami decides to flip that proverbial switch.
The Heat are their own worst enemy. They have to find a way to put a premium on these games, because right now, one simply does not exist:
The 82-game schedule is a grind for every team, but the Heat are carrying loads of extra mileage from seasons past.
With three straight trips to the NBA Finals, Miami has played 67 postseason games since 2011. That figure is important not as an excuse for tired legs, but rather to note that the Heat truly appreciate the grind that lies ahead.
A grind that doesn't really start until April or, for true contenders, late May.
The Heat can't fast forward to that spot. Snoozing through these long winter months is the next best option.
No one should be concerned about anything Miami is doing right now. Well, other than the handful of teams who think they have a realistic shot at ending the Heat's title run.
And those teams wouldn't dare fool themselves into thinking a mid-January slip-up diminishes Miami's championship stock one bit.
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