Heat seek consistency after uneven preseason start
MIAMI — Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra and his team are not pleased with their uneven performance so far in the preseason. That was evident immediately after dropping their fourth straight preseason game in their home loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday and even more so after Wednesday’s practice session.
Incorporating so many new players into the fold and adjusting to the loss of several veterans was clearly going to be a work in progress. But the inconsistency on both sides of the floor is already a concern no matter how many excuses there can be this early into the process. Spoelstra addressed those issues with his team before they hit the road to face the trigger-happy Golden State Warriors, who will tax the already flustered Heat defensively.
"We’re still trying to build our system and a lot of it was defense today but there was also some offensive talk where it affected our defense," Spoelstra said. "Our defensive numbers and our defensive commitment has to be better than what it is right now. Everybody in the gym understands that. There’s going to be some work required for that."
The coaching staff has been working at this since the first day of training camp when they chose to focus exclusively on defense. Without a solid foundation set in place on that side of the court, the offense will suffer for it and vice versa. The symbiotic relationship is what Spoelstra is consistently refining at this stage of the preseason.
"While we’re talking about defense, there is an element of our offense that can help our defense," he said. "That’s getting organized, getting the types of shots we want to while we’re still playing the type of game that we want to. That’s got to improve so it works hand in hand and that’s what we worked on today."
At times, the Heat show tantalizing doses of the kind of basketball Spoelstra wants to see, such as the first quarter of the game against the Hawks. There was aggressive trapping, contested shots and players moving with a purpose that helped cause turnovers and in turn create fast break opportunities and easy buckets in transition.
All too often in the preseason however, the defensive lulls have helped dig a hole too big for the Heat to climb out of. Through the last three games, the team has mounted a furious comeback only to fall short. Yes, the score may mean nothing in the preseason but the results are still a clear indication that plenty needs to be corrected in time for the regular season when it will matter.
"I’m a bit of a perfectionist," said Chris Bosh. "The first quarter was good — even the first half of the second quarter was good — and that’s both on the offensive and defensive ends. It kind of faded on us and we have to do a better job of making sure we’re knowing where the ball is going and know the situation. We’re just in the process where we’re going to make a bunch of mistakes and we just have to make sure we learn from it. So moving forward on Friday and Sunday we need to see some progress."
The veterans understand it. They’ve been drilled and hammered with similar concepts throughout their career. There isn’t anything close to panic — at least not yet — but time is also needed for them to get on the same page. Right now, they simply haven’t showed much cohesion on defense.
"It’s more so about getting there with a sense of urgency and being where you need to be with a purpose," said newcomer Danny Granger. "If you’re in a spot, maybe you’re one step slow. It’s all stuff that can be easily corrected. Defense in this league, it’s not a one-on-one defensive league. The offensive players are too great and the rules are adjusted to help the offensive players so it’s really more of a team defense. Getting that concept is just about repetitions and preferences."
Once the team can start clicking together and meaningful victories can be achieved, it will be a different story. The talent is there and many of the players are battle-tested but until that happens their resolve will be tested.
"The big word around here is patience but the one thing is you’re going to see at times with that patience comes frustrations in the game," Dwyane Wade said. "It’s tough for everyone, no one is exempt from it. It’s easy to say the word patience but it’s hard to have it. But we all have to keep things in perspective. That doesn’t mean we have to accept losing. We just got to make strides every week and if we continue to do that we’ll be at the place where we need to be."
Wade has been through these types of struggles before with Bosh at his side. Both stars understand it won’t be a quick process.
"It’s going to take some time but we have hard working guys who are hungry and want to win," Bosh said. "We just have to go through this process for whatever reason. We have to make sure that we get the message through."