The Miami Heat went back to work at practice Wednesday eager to put their deflating loss to the San Antonio Spurs behind them.
They have little choice, really, with a tough road trip of three games in four nights beginning Thursday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are coming off a conference-best 11-4 record for the month of March. To make matters worse for Miami, LeBron James has led his team to 16 consecutive home victories.
"Obviously they’re playing very well, especially at [Quicken Loans Arena] they play very, very well," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "It’s going to be a big challenge for us, and we’re just going to have to try to get into the fight and at the end of the day on the road, all you want to do is give yourself a chance. We’re still in this playoff battle, and it’s going to be a tough three games in four days. But we have to take care of the first game, and we got a team that’s playing very well, and we have to go out there and compete."
As has been the case for most of the season, head coach Erik Spoelstra doesn’t know who will be able to suit up Thursday night. Luol Deng (knee contusion) and Udonis Haslem (illness) will be traveling with the team but are game-time decisions. The team announced after practice that rookie point guard Shabazz Napier will be out for the rest of the season following successful surgery to repair a sports hernia.
"Right now, it’s about us connecting and being together," Spoelstra said. "All of us probably want to spend some time away, but then before you embark on a trip like this with the importance (of it), there wasn’t a lot of physical work today. It’s more about the connection and the communication together. And when we got on that plane, hopefully we can do something special together this weekend."
It would be one thing if the team were reasonably healthy. But the team’s attempts for consistency have been affected by the non-stop shuffling of players in and out of the lineup.
"Every game is different, and every game we have a different group of guys who are playing," Goran Dragic said. "It’s tough because right now, we don’t have a lot of time to practice five-on-five, and most of the times when you see five guys on the floor, we’ve never played together. Maybe because of that sometimes it’s that chemistry that is not clicking right away. We never use excuses. We try to go there and try to battle. If you bring energy, then you can replace those mistakes with energy."
To their credit, the Heat have played as well as can be expected at AmericanAirlines Arena, where they’ve won eight of their past 10 even with Tuesday’s loss to the Spurs. But going 1-3 on last week’s road trip cost them a chance to catch the Milwaukee Bucks for the No. 6 seed, where they could avoid the likes of the Atlanta Hawks and the Cavaliers and instead face either the Chicago Bulls or the Toronto Raptors in the first round.
The Heat have not won consecutive road games since the calendar flipped to 2015, and they have done it just twice all season. Now would be a perfect time to start, with the Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers all within two games in the standings.
For that to happen, the team will need to count on all available players to make up for the absences of their sidelined teammates.
"Is it mind-boggling every day that we walk in here we don’t know who’s going to be in the locker room?" Wade said. "Yeah, it’s been different. It’s been a bizarre season."
Any expectation that the team could put the injury woes behind them has been extinguished, but in its place is the hope that who will play can bring the required effort necessary to maintain their spot in the playoffs.
"I don’t know if that’s going to happen," Wade said of the team getting healthy. "That’s something that going into the summer, whenever it comes, and everybody can talk about ‘What if?’ We’ll leave that for that, but right now, we just have whoever is here, whoever is able to go and able to give what they can. Some nights is going to be good enough and some nights it’s not but we’re going to keep rolling and keep trying."
At practice, Spoelstra offered up an update on Chris Bosh’s status and how he’s progressing since his diagnosis of blood clots on his lungs in February.
"He’s extended his walking outside," Spoelstra said. "He’s been able to do a little bit of pool work downstairs. So he’s getting a little bit more active, but there’s no timetable. We’ll get to a plan and a program soon enough.
"Right now, it’s just about him being around the guys, being around the facility and being around the team during games. He loves it. He was starting to get bored."