Hot start forgotten, Heat desperate for answers
Only a month ago, everything seemed different about the Miami Heat. They were 7-2 and flying after a buzzer-beating, game-ending 3-pointer from Dwyane Wade defeated the New Jersey Nets.
``This is my house,'' Wade exalted that night, repeating a familiar refrain.
Wade's house - not to mention his team - have fallen into disrepair since.
Miami has lost 10 of its last 15 games, the most inexplicable of those coming Sunday in a 118-90 defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies, the worst Heat home loss since April 2008. A once-promising start is forgotten, the 11-11 record they'll take into Tuesday night's game with Toronto is perfectly mediocre and a season that began with high expectations now seems on the brink of freefall.
``We definitely have to dig deep,'' Heat co-captain Udonis Haslem said, ``to find out what type of team we are.''
They don't have to dig too deeply right now to get that answer.
Entering Monday, of the top nine teams in the Eastern Conference standings, only Miami has a sub-.500 record at home, falling to 6-7 after the debacle against the Grizzlies. The Heat have lost as many home games as East division leaders Boston, Orlando and Cleveland combined.
With more than a quarter of the season gone, Miami's rotation still seems in flux.
Daequan Cook, last season's 3-point shootout champion at All-Star Weekend, hasn't played any meaningful minutes since November, his time now largely going to Dorell Wright. Michael Beasley has shot 9 of 30 in the last two games, both big home losses. James Jones was envisioned as a key part of Miami's offense this season; he's shooting 36 percent in relatively limited action.
``There's not really one thing you can pinpoint at all,'' Wade said.
Attendance was announced at 14,465 in a building that holds 19,600, but it seemed like Miami's home court was only about half-filled Sunday night.
And when the Grizzlies' romp - led by Rudy Gay's career-high 41-point outburst - was over, Wade had an interesting observation.
``I have to credit our fans for sticking in the game and not booing,'' Wade said. ``They had every right to do that.''
Instead of hearing it from fans, the Heat heard it from each other afterward.
Typically, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra begins his postgame session with reporters about 10 minutes after a game ends. He needed over 30 minutes to arrive Sunday night, because a few steps up the hall lined with photos of Miami's 2006 championship run, he was holding a closed-door team meeting inside the locker room.
There was anger from some, frustration from others, silence from Wade, who said he wanted to absorb what others were feeling.
``You get measured and you get tested as an individual and as a group when there's real adversity,'' Spoelstra said. ``When you have a feeling like we have and all the guys in that locker room have right now, those are the most poignant times in pro sports. All it's about now is responding to this.''
Most of what was said in that meeting stayed behind those closed doors.
Spoelstra acknowledged that he chose his words cautiously, not wanting to inflict more damage on already-wounded psyches. Wade revealed that Jermaine O'Neal - who had just returned from a two-game absence because of the death of a close relative - and Haslem did the bulk of the talking from the players' side during the session.
``I just gave my story and what I did to get here and why I play so hard,'' Haslem said. ``I believe everyone has a story and everyone has gone through something to get to this point. I think that sometimes we forget what we had to go through and how hard we had to work to get here.''
In the same realm as Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, the only two Heat players to have their numbers retired, Miami president Pat Riley has long spoken of Haslem as a ``warrior'' type, someone who plays through injury and illness or whatever else hampers him for the good of the team.
Clearly, in Haslem's eyes, there isn't enough of that going around.
``I don't always play great, I don't always make every shot and I'm not perfect,'' said Haslem, who was moved out of the starting lineup before the season. ``But one thing that is consistent is my effort every night. We just need to get that chip back on our shoulder that we had earlier in the season.''