The Miami Heat are 43-20 and in third place in the Eastern Conference standings. Just looking at that, one would think they are a great team ready to compete for an NBA championship. But delve a little deeper behind this ultra-analyzed squad and you'll find plenty of reasons to chock them up as pretenders.
The Heat have lost four straight and five of six games all to quality opponents in closely contended ballgames. They have lost to the Bulls twice, the Knicks, Magic, and of course the 30-point massacre to the Spurs.
The Heat are 0-6 against the two teams ahead of them in the East in the Celtics and Bulls. They are 2-2 against the Magic, but no one seems to think they are contenders anymore (I don't particularly know why). They are 1-9 against the top five teams in the league, with their only win coming on Christmas Day against the Lakers.
To top it all off, Coach Erik Spoelstra has cited players for hanging their heads and crying after their most recent heartbreaking loss to the Bulls 87-86.
So what's the fallout? Blame has to be doled out, right? Well it has been. People are once again calling for Spoelstra's job, people are questioning if LeBron James will ever win a title, and people are questioning if this team will ever break through.
Notice the key word in the last paragraph? People. The Heat seem to be listening to people and letting them get under their skin. Why else would Dwyane Wade say the world is getting what they want by them losing games?
A large part of the game of basketball is keeping your emotions in check—including in your demeanor on and off the court. They seem to do that on the court when winning, but once the losing starts, everything begins to fall apart.
Let's face it, this team is not hard to figure out. They play a lot of one-on-one. It's no secret. As teams realize that, they begin to take advantage of it. It's happened EVERY single time in each of their close games. Give it to Wade or James at the top for isolation and roll with it.
The Heat have been unsuccessful in making shots at the end of the game, plain and simple. This team set lofty expectations for themselves from the start and apparently are not meeting them. Remember the stretch of the season when they won 21 of 22 games? Neither does anyone else, because they are focused on the present, and the present is not good.
Wade made the point that more reporters who cover the Heat show up to bash the team when they are unsuccessful than when they are playing well. Isn't that expected though? This team was supposed to be an automatic contender for the title but, they are not playing like it.
So what now? It's inevitable that when a team struggles there will be some questions and criticism, but their ultimate resolve as a team will prove whether or not they can overcome and get on the winning track again. Stop listening to the naysayers and play your game.
The media will be the media. They will ask trivial, idiotic and unnecessary questions like which players were crying after the loss to the Bulls. Stay strong in your resolve to improve. They have 17 regular season games left to prove they are ready to beat the Celtics, Magic and Bulls when the games count. It's up to the Heat as a group, not just the Heatles.
With all that said, this team is still one of the best in the league. A lot of teams would kill to have the problems the Heat are having. To quote James, "43 and 20 ain't bad."