Are Heat in trouble after another big defeat?

Teaching moments to coaches are like wide-open 3-pointers to
players; they often prove too tempting to resist.

Sometimes, though, the thing to do is pass.

Coming off a frustrating double-digit loss in Oklahoma City on Sunday, Miami
coach Erik Spoelstra had to get his team ready for Monday’s contest in
Indianapolis. But instead of focusing on the hot Pacers, Spoelstra spent much
of the team’s preparation time going over the mistakes made in the Thunder loss — which he referred to as “a boiling point” — in hopes of putting
an end to the Heat’s road funk.

It didn’t work. Miami never led in the second half and dropped a 105-90 decision
to Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Spoelstra can’t wait to get his team back to South Beach as Miami has dropped
six of eight on the road. What might be the most talented team in the NBA
currently possesses its third-best record at 35-13, trailing Chicago (40-11)
and Oklahoma City (37-12).

At the moment, Spoelstra and the Heat are less concerned with the tangible goal
than the performance level. Without the latter, the former becomes moot.

“It has more to do about how we’re playing,” he said. “We’re not
pleased with how we’ve been playing on a consistent or inconsistent level the
last three weeks. Until we change that, we can’t even really focus on that top
record. We’re not there yet. Chicago’s able to still create some separation.
But we feel we can win anywhere when we’re on top of our game and we’re not
doing that right now.”

On each of the last three road trips, the Heat have gone 1-2. There are
recurring problems at both ends of the floor. On offense, ball movement and
protection; on defense, well, everything. After yielding 103 points, getting
outrebounded 36-31 and producing more turnovers (21) than assists (17) in
Oklahoma City, guess what happened Monday night?

Miami yielded 105 points (on 46 percent shooting), was outrebounded 49-33 and
produced more turnovers (17) than assists (11).

Where to start? Try the top: LeBron James was outscored by Danny Granger 25-24
and committed six turnovers.

“Turnovers, for sure, are our Achilles heel right now,” James said.
“We turned the ball over, and when we don’t rebound, it doesn’t result in
wins for us.  Some of the turnovers you can live with.  We’re
attacking and guys are trying to make a winning play.  But some of the
ones when you’re just careless, you don’t like those turnovers.  I know I
had a few careless ones tonight.”

The statistics quantify the issues; the play illustrates it.

Opponents know Miami is a team capable of wiping out any
lead in an instant, which puts added pressure on every possession. This is true
for Indiana in particular. When these teams last met, the Pacers had the ball
and a four-point lead in the final 90 seconds of regulation and couldn’t
protect it. They had a five-point lead with less than two minutes to go in
overtime and couldn’t protect it.

Miami won 93-91 on a shot Dwyane Wade wasn’t even trying to make. Tightly
guarded with time running out, Wade pump-faked young Paul George off his feet
and leaned in to draw contact — only the official didn’t bite. With no
whistle, Wade simply flipped up an off-balance, heave that naturally found the
hole as time expired. The Pacers’ spirits were crushed — this one worse than
the previous two, which were Miami blowouts.

On Monday, when James followed a Mario Chalmers’ bucket by stealing the
inbounds pass with less than five minutes remaining and the Heat trailing 96-87,
it was time to put the quiver in Indiana’s knees.

Except for this: the ball caromed around pointlessly from player to player
until Wade tossed up an airball from the baseline. He had no other reaction
than to walk upcourt wearing a sardonic grin.

“Sometimes you go through these spells in an NBA season and it’s a
struggle,” Spoelstra said. “The last two for us were a struggle.
Tonight was a little bit different than last night. The guys were out there
competing, but we just couldn’t get over the hump. We just have to stay the
course.”

The situation is not exactly desperate. This still is one of the most feared
teams in the NBA, but the aura of invincibility is wavering. Orlando looms just
four games back in the Southeast Division, meaning the rear-view mirror offers
a target almost as big as that in the windshield; Chicago’s conference lead is
3½ games.

“We hit a little pothole in the road here,” Wade said. “But
we’ll make adjustments before we get back out on the court.”

The key is to make them stick before they get back out on the road.