With the Miami Heat having lost four of their last five games, including two back-to-back defeats by double digits to the subpar Bucks, it is time to say their season is on the verge of a downward spiral.
The Heat have fallen to 24-24 and are clinging on to the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference with dear life. After holding onto the fifth seed for the majority of the season, Miami has plummeted down the standings and have the Bucks scratching at their heels at two games behind.
Even if Miami does survive, they would face a dangerous first-round matchup with LeBron James and the top seeded Cleveland Cavaliers—a more daunting task than the fourth-seeded Hawks.
What happened to the Heat team that started out 7-1 and looked like a true playoff caliber team, capable of making some noise in the postseason? Injuries, inconsistency, and a rough schedule have all contributed to Miami's recent struggles.
First of all, Dwayne Wade, Jermaine O'Neal, Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers, and Quentin Richardson have all been nagged by minor injuries that have limited their performance. While there have been no serious injuries this year, almost the entire starting lineup has been forced to play through hurt wrists, backs, and knees. Evidently, it has taken a toll on them on nights when they lack energy.
Although injuries have played a part in the Heat's recent struggles, inconsistency has truly doomed this squad. Miami has showcased some of the most bizarre and erratic play in the NBA this year. Numerous times they will absolutely blow out an opponent one night only to be destroyed the next.
In a confusing stretch at the end of January, the Heat routed Indiana by 30 points, got blown out by 39 points by Charlotte the next night, and then had back-to-back double digit victories over the Wizards and Kings later in the week.
The problem is, you never know which Heat team will come out on any given night. Some nights they display a great effort, playing excellent team defense and getting solid performances from their role players. On other nights, they turn in such a lackluster performance that they're out of the game by halftime.
On top of that, Miami has one of the most unique schedules in the league. They started out the season with 11 of their first 16 games being at home, followed by only seven road games the next month, and then endured a huge road swing last month.
In addition, their early season stretch started out with teams that were primarily non-playoff contending teams, only to be overloaded with elite teams in the upcoming months.
All of these factors have contributed to the current funk Miami is enduring. And to make matters worse, they have the hardest part of their schedule coming up, with eight out of their next nine games coming on the road.
The Heat begin the month of February with back-to-back games against Boston and Cleveland on the road. They also face Atlanta, Dallas, and Orlando away from home before the month ends. In total, Miami has to face eight playoff contending teams over the next month, with the majority of them being away from American Airlines Arena.
And five out those eight playoff teams are considered elite teams vying for a championship. So, to put it in perspective: it's do or die time for the Heat.
They can either overcome their current funk and charge their way back into the top of the middle pack or they can falter and have their season spiral out of control.
Fortunately, this is a Heat team that has a lot of fight in them. They have shown it this season with the way they respond to blowouts and setbacks. There have been three different times where Miami has dropped to .500, but they have never allowed themselves to slip under that mark.
Hopefully, the Heat will respond to this challenge and show their true colors. If they can play their game of solid defense and use their weapons effectively, they have the tools to get back to the fifth seed.
Wade will have a lot of responsibility on his shoulders to lead this young team out of its current state and back to the postseason.
And with 34 games remaining and the team fighting for playoff positioning, it's make it or break it time for the Miami Heat.