HANG TIME, Texas — Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
There’s a team currently on the West Coast that is struggling to find its swagger, identity, the stuff that was supposed to make for an easy cruise into the NBA Finals.
They’ve been pushed around by Chicago, taken down by Indiana and caught from behind down the stretch in Portland.
Five losses in eight games and the sky is falling.
No, not the Lakers.
It’s the defending champion Heat, who are so worried that they’ve barely noticed, according to Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
“Damn, it’s five of eight?” (Chris) Bosh asked.
“You have to find that gray area between a sense of urgency and staying calm. Panicking isn’t going to get you anywhere. You have to go through so many different experiences in order to get to that point where you can handle it the right way.”
“The biggest thing is that it’s not the end of the world,” guard Dwyane Wade said. “I think the first year [in 2010] when we lost a couple games, it was tough. But we still stuck together. That’s the same thing we do here [now]. We move on from it because we understand just as well as you can lose five of eight, you can run off 12 straight. That’s just the way it works.”
Miami’s reaction to the struggles is not so much a nonchalance as evidence of how the Heat have come to understand that the regular season is simply a long process where a contending team learns to grow together, develop a bond and a rhythm that is established by the time the playoffs start.
Two years ago, in the first go-round for Bosh, Wade and LeBron James as teammates, the bar of expectation was set absurdly and unnecessarily high and they themselves bought into it, reacting and overreacting to every win, loss, criticism, praise and blip on the radar screen. Now they hit tonight’s third stop on a season-long six-game road trip in Sacramento and their heads aren’t exploding because they started out 0-2.
What last season taught was that if they closed the doors and windows to the noise and treated the ups and downs of the season as just that, the Heat could keep their sanity and keep their edge.
They are not the Lakers, tires blown, muffler dragging and spewing black smoke down a potholed side street where they can’t even see the playoffs. None of their core three are suffering from back problems like Dwight Howard or sidelined with a concussion ala Pau Gasol. They’re not grasping desperately to get a clue, just working their way through the blues.
The recent losses to the Bulls and Pacers only reinforce what the Heat already knew. There will be times in the playoffs when they’ll be tested, maybe pushed to the edge, perhaps even tempted to reach for the panic button. This is not it.