Posted Mar 10 2011 12:49PM
The heat, of course, is always going to be on in Miami -- and not just when the Heat are off.
Remember, even if Erik Spoelstra somehow finds a way to pick the current broken pieces of his team off the floor and glue them back together into a title-winning unit, he will be expected to do it again.
And again. And maybe again.
That was, after all, the mandate laid down by none other than LeBron James at the Midsummer Night Scream when he counted off for the jubilant crowd at American Airlines Arena how many of those gaudy championship rings he expected to collect now that his talents were in South Beach along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh: "One, two, three, four, five..."
It was also the standard set by a young Pat Riley, who stepped up to the mike at the victory celebration after the Lakers won the NBA crown in 1987 and said: "I'm guaranteeing everybody here, next year we're gonna win it again."
And they did.
Now Riley is both the midwife who delivered the trio of All-Stars into his care and the Hall of Fame shadow that looms over Spoelstra. That shadow is never larger than now as other would-be contenders from L.A. to Boston to Chicago to San Antonio to Dallas are in the process of honing a fine edge onto their games. This while the Heat are swinging a dull ax.
It's not one 24-point collapse at home to Orlando, one first quarter surrender in San Antonio or one more failure in the final seconds against Chicago that keeps turning the vise tighter on Spoelstra. It's more his whistling-past-the-graveyard demeanor, his sprinkling of bromides and espousing of high school pep talks, when really what his team needs are on-the-court answers and -- paraphrasing the great philosopher Chris Webber -- to just shut up and play. It is the look of Bambi staring at the onrushing tractor-trailer.
"Where we need to make the biggest change is in resolve," Spoelstra said. "We're doing enough things well enough to win, even against good opponents. We just need to have more discipline and mental toughness to close out games.
"Ultimately, this adversity is the quickest way to do it and we're trying to fast-track this right now. We don't want to hear anything about that it's not going to happen this year for us or that it takes a long time for championship teams to be built, that it takes time to go through the battles and the proverbial wars together.
"We went through some abnormal adversity early on in November, much of it created by the media, which is good. It banded us together as a group of brothers ... Those types of events in this league, as long as they don't break you, can fast-track what you're trying to do."
With the Heat's slump now at six losses in their last seven games heading into Thursday night's ultra-high-profile collision with the resurgent Lakers (7 p.m. ET, TNT), it was not entirely clear to whom Spoelstra was making his case. To the Miami fans who were chanting "We want Riley!" in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's home loss to Portland? To the media that have reported the facts of the ongoing soap opera fiasco? Or was it to his increasingly clueless, hapless, divided team?
Sixty-four games in, how can Bosh not know his role in the offense? How can Wade still be begging for his turn to take over? How can James simultaneously promise "not to fail" his teammates again and mention so casually that even if the Heat don't win another game, they'll still be in the playoffs.
Also unclear is Spolestra's message itself. While one moment he is pleading for calm and the understanding that this is all part of the normal growth cycle for a team, the next he is sitting before the TV cameras on Sunday offering up the tidbit that some of his players were crying inside the locker room. To what end?
By the middle of the week, Spoelstra had predictably turned the affair around and blamed it on the media and its sensationalizing of everything about the Heat. That is an interesting perspective from inside the walls of an organization that kicked everything off with a sensational, over-the-top victory celebration when they signed the tremendous trio last July.
The truth is it's not about hype or sensationalism, merely a failure by the Heat to perform. Never mind Miami's 1-9 record against the top five teams in the NBA or 0-3 matching records against Eastern Conference rivals Boston and Chicago. The most staggering and damning stat is the Heat's 1-for-18 success rate on shots to win or tie in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime. In other words, the situations that Spoelstra sets up for them.
When the two-time defending champion Lakers went through their struggles, Kobe Bryant & Co. had a deep well of institutional knowledge they could rely on to get back on track, not to mention a coach with 11 championship rings. They all knew their roles and how to get there.
The Heat have shining individual resumes, yet couldn't find team harmony or a philosophical foundation with a GPS. Their idea of a plan is simple isolation plays in the clutch. Rather than conduct them as an orchestra playing as together, Spoelstra merely sets the stage for James and Wade to be soloists. Mostly James, and that's what frustrates Wade.
Conventional wisdom says it is too late in the season for Miami to consider a coaching change. However, there is precedent. When Dallas was 42-22 in March of 2005, GM/coach Don Nelson replaced himself on the bench with then-assistant Avery Johnson. That inspired the Mavericks to a blazing 16-2 record down the stretch and the next season, they went to the NBA Finals.
Of course, Spoelstra insists Miami isn't playing for next year. He is not bothered by the long shadow of Riley. As his eyes plead and his voice yearns, Spoelstra tries to convince anyone who'll listen that he can take the heat.
How far, of course, will always be the question.
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