WASHINGTON — The teacher hopes the lesson has been learned.
But as far as the star pupils are concerned, what lesson?
The Miami Heat spent the latter part of last month flirting with danger against lesser NBA foes. They needed Houdini-like escapes at home to beat so-so Milwaukee, lowly Cleveland and San Antonio’s Double-A team, one not featuring sent-home stars Tim Duncan, Tony Paker and Manu Ginobili.
Since the Heat came back to win all those games after trailing each by six or more points in the final five minutes, the lesson apparently had not been learned. But professor Erik Spoelstra believes it might now have set in.
“I think we all know the lesson is that you can only go to the well so many times,” the Heat coach said after an embarrassing 105-101 loss Tuesday night at the Verizon Center to dreadful Washington (2-13) ended his team’s six-game winning streak. “And it is a full 48-minute game. It doesn’t matter who you play against. You have to compete all those 48 minutes.”
The question then was posed to Miami stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade: Did the Heat learn a lesson Tuesday?
“I don’t. No,” Wade said when told what Spoelstra had said.
“It’s not no lesson,” James said. “This ain’t a lesson for us. We just lost. That’s all it is. We’ve seen and been through everything. So we don’t need a loss like, ‘Oh, let’s catch ourselves.’ No. it just happens.”
One could wonder why these Heat stars are putting on blinders and thinking there hasn’t been a problem. Then again, it’s hard to doubt James and Wade too much. They’re two of the best players on the planet and each can flash an NBA championship ring whenever doubters might surface.
And it’s not as if either was lackadaisical Tuesday. James had 26 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in 43 minutes, his first regular-season triple-double since March 29, 2011, and Wade had 24 points.
Then again, maybe James and Wade just didn’t like the way it sounded, that the Heat (12-4) learned a lesson against a Wizards team that had started 0-12 and hasn’t played all season without star point guard John Wall. When James and Wade talked otherwise, it sure sounded as if they realize bad habits have been creeping in during the early part of the season.
“We’re an older bunch so it takes a little while to get into the flow of the game, getting to exactly what’s on going out there,” said James, offering a geriatric description usually reserved for Boston when it comes to top teams in the East. “But we got to find a way to just try to pick up energy… We got to care about the defensive end like we do when we play some of the better teams. Until we do that, a lot of teams will get comfortable and a lot of teams just feel like they can beat us.”
The Heat trailed 60-54 at halftime and allowed the Wizards, who got a team-high 22 points from reserve guard Jordan Crawford, to score nearly 16 above their average for a game. Perhaps that’s why Wade, despite having soundly rejected what his coach said, used a word that sure made it sound as if he actually agrees with Spoelstra.
“We came out like we normally come out in the beginning of games and it came back to haunt us late,” Wade said.
The key word was “haunt.” But it is just December, and the Heat have plenty of time to correct their difficulties.
An immediate one is health. The Heat began the game without starting forward Shane Battier, who sat out a third straight time with a sprained right knee, and reserve point guard Norris Cole, who was out with mild groin strain after last Saturday against Brooklyn playing his best game of the season.
Midway through the second quarter, the Heat then lost starting point Mario Chalmers for the game due to a jammed left ring finger. Chalmers said he’ll have doctors check out the injury Wednesday in Miami, and he doesn’t know his status for Thursday’s home game against New York.
It has been fun for the Heat to talk about how they’re “positionless.” But it is apparent the position of point guard is pretty important when Miami doesn’t have one.
“When I found out (Chalmers) was out for the rest of the game, I knew I was going to have to be more of a facilitator out there,” said James, who ran the point while never sitting out in the final 30:53 of the game but did try to rescue the Heat with shooting, missing two key 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds. “I knew I was going to have to handle the ball a lot. It takes a lot out of you when you have to turn to the point but I got to do it.”
James, who starts at forward, proved to be second-best passer in the building Tuesday. He only took a backseat to Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who sat courtside and got perhaps the biggest ovation of the night when he was introduced.
After the game, James wasn’t happy about the loss. But he still came over to offer well wishes to the rookie.
“I shook his hand and told him how great he is,” James said. “So it’s cool.”
The loss wasn’t cool as far as Spoelstra was concerned. But if the Heat learn from it, perhaps it could turn out to be helpful.
“We’ll see,” Spoelstra said. “Unfortunately, (a loss is) often the way lessons get imprinted into your conscious stronger than anything else.”
James and Wade insisted there was no lesson to be learned. Then again, maybe they just didn’t want to admit their teacher, who has been preaching potential pitfalls for a while, was right.