After the first 17 games, roughly 20 percent of the season, the Miami Heat sported a mediocre and disappointing 9-8 record.
The following 22 games, however, saw Miami bulldoze through the league with a 21-1 mark. The Heat then went 1-5, followed by an 11-1 run, and finally a 1-6 stretch before last night’s much needed victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
There are now 17 games left in the regular season, roughly 20 percent.
What does this mean, other than the fact that Miami’s record is 44-21 and they currently sit on the leader board at the three spot in the East?
While every loss in the early season was a letdown, the Heat have lost only one game all year that you can look back at now and say, “How could they possibly lose to them?”.
November 22, 2010, the Indiana Pacers traveled to American Airlines Arena and looked like a varsity team practicing against the JV squad before a high school state championship game.
Final score: Indiana 93, Miami 77.
What about at Memphis two nights earlier? Wade was out. Not an excuse, but a very good reason why the Heat could not pull out the victory—a victory Rudy Gay sealed with a fade away jumper over the outstretched hands of LeBron James at the buzzer.
Memphis has proven their worth since then, currently in contention for the last playoff spot out west.
What about losing against the Clippers in L.A. on January 12th, snapping a 9-game winning streak? Possibly. But not when you remember that the Clippers were playing very good basketball at the time, riding the tidal wave known as Blake Superior.
The Clippers jumped out to an 18-point lead after one quarter, yet Miami was in the game at the end, and then LeBron tweaked his ankle (was it karma? I forget).
Should they, or could they, have won? Of course. But the loss itself was not as disappointing, nor surprising, as it was a very exciting game featuring three of the most explosive players in the league today.
While the Heat have suffered several disheartening losses, the losses themselves are not what one should consider "bad" losses.
Blowing double-digit leads at home against conference rivals looking to state their cases against you (New York, Orlando, Chicago) and being humiliated on the road against a possible NBA Finals opponent (San Antonio) are not necessarily good things, we know.
Disappointing? Absolutely. Championship teams do not lose the way Miami has recently. But Miami is not a championship team-yet.
Deflating? Sure. The Heat were supposed to be a well-oiled machine by now (sometime earlier this season, before looking at the schedule, I predicted that the Heat would not lose after the All-Star break).
Losing any games, especially these recent home contests played in a playoff atmosphere, chips away at the shield of confidence formed by having three of the best players in the league on your side.
But are they bad losses? Not at all. Bad losses in the NBA are those caused by indifference, by taking a night or two off during the draining sludgefest known as the 82-game regular season. The types of losses the Lakers have suffered this season.
Luckily for the Lakers—and the Celtics and Spurs, teams that are proven—they can afford those bad losses. They’ll be fine.
Miami, at the very least, has been anything but indifferent this season. With pressure on this team magnified to previously unseen levels, every game is a building block, none is worth ignoring.
SO THE HEAT HAVE NO BAD LOSSES SINCE NOVEMBER. NOW WHAT?
In the NBA, it is not easy to win games you should lose, but it is very easy to lose games that you should win. This should not be ignored.
There are also plenty of occurrences when two teams are seemingly even. Games between these teams come down to several factors, not the least of which is will.
Chemistry is another factor. The Heat’s chemistry has been under the microscope all season. The team has tried several methods, through trial and error, to not only define each player’s role, but keep everyone happy and on the same page, therefore creating a tested, finished product strong enough to impose its will when it counts.
In this sense, Miami’s recent unraveling has been exactly what it needed. A mental obstacle course seemingly sent from above as a preview of what’s to come in April...and May…and probably June.
Who would have thought that the Heat would experience this roller-coaster mini-playoff preview against conference and league contenders, where each game comes down to the final seconds, forcing the team to learn how to win against the same teams they will face in the playoffs?
Now, they may not have won these nail-biters, but they cannot be surprised anymore. Miami is essentially in the middle of an 11-game playoff stretch. Each game requiring ultimate effort for a victory, but more importantly, producing stronger bonds which are necessary for solid chemistry.
Each game providing another forum for important pieces like Chris Bosh to pronounce themselves as relevant, not afraid to mix it up, on or off the court.
And each game allowing other important pieces to agree with each other, like Wade and James passing the ball to Bosh, and not just because coach called the play, but because he’s open.
WHO HAVE THEY BEATEN?
There is something truly unique happening in South Beach, I mean, Miami. But it is all too common.
There has never been a team faced with as much fanfare, scrutiny, adulation, and spite as this year’s Miami Heat. This will happen when one LeBron James takes his talents to…
Along with the championship celebration before the season even started.
But, like any team hoping to successfully blend new, dominating forces among themselves, the Heat still must learn how to play with each other. They must learn to lose and then respond together. They must be tested. After this is accomplished, then the victories against the elite teams will come more naturally.
In the meantime, the Heat must be content only with sweeping the season series versus the two-time defending champions.