Heat’s margin of error has vanished

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: LeBron James did his usual work for the Miami Heat in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — With the start of the playoffs just 10 days away, I never expected to be questioning the Miami Heat.

Normally, you’ve earned the benefit of all doubt when you smash your way to three straight Finals, win back-to-back titles and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are capable of handling any challenge thrown your way on the road to that sort of success.

And yet I cannot get the words of TNT’s Steve Kerr out of my head. He was the first to fire off a warning about the perils of the sort of journey the Heat are on, the taxing nature of not only chasing a three-peat, but the exhausting grind of playing to the final day of the NBA season four years in a row. It’s a grueling process that has worn down the best of the best before, so why shouldn’t it do the same to the Heat?

“There’s a reason these teams don’t do it,” Kerr said in September. “Emotionally, it’s just exhausting to keep doing it year after year, particularly when you have to deal with everything Miami has to deal with on a daily basis, just the constant critiquing and scrutiny on the team, and then you factor in the injuries with Wade and Bosh and their health. I don’t think Miami will get out of the East this year.”

Even if they get out of the East (which I think they will), their margin of error in The Finals — which was razor-thin last season — has vanished. They were on the ropes against the San Antonio Spurs, 30 seconds away from going down in Game 6 before they found the magic needed to survive that game and the energy to finish the Spurs off in Game 7.

It’s asking too much for the Heat to muster that sort of energy and effort again … especially after they’ve already spent a considerable amount of energy and effort dominating the way they have for four seasons running.

This Heat team, the one where LeBron James does the nightly heavy lifting while Chris Bosh does his part and Dwyane Wade helps (when he’s healthy and feeling good enough to suit up) reminds me of the 2011 group that lost to the Dallas Mavericks in The Finals.

It’s a game-to-game thing with the Heat now. Things appear to be fine after a win against a contender from the Eastern or Western Conference, while a loss to a contender starts the chorus of concern all over again. We’ll see it again in the next 48 hours. Losing to Memphis Wednesday night raised all the same red flags about the Heat’s ability to answer the bell against a desperate team. But a win Friday night (7:30 ET, NBA TV) in their fourth and final battle of this regular season against the Indiana Pacers will silence the cynics — at least for a few hours.

A year ago, the Heat were in the midst of a stunning finish to the regular season that saw them win 27 straight games as they chased the Lakers’ NBA-record 33-game win streak. No one had any doubts that they were ready for the playoffs, ready to handle the rigors of winning back-to-back titles and solidifying their status as the league’s preeminent force.

These days, each outing offers more and more signs of decay. It’s a natural erosion that comes with the Heat pounding the rock every night since James, Wade and Bosh joined forces. You don’t have to be a Heat hater to see it either. You simply have to watch, study and give an honest assessment of what we’re seeing out of Miami as the regular season ends.

The same way Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.com did after that loss to the Grizzlies:

The other somewhat troubling sign Wednesday was how quickly the offense went from free-flowing with great ball movement in the first half to a stagnant, LeBron-or-nothing affair that played very much into Memphis’ hands.

James happened to keep Miami in the game because he had his jumper going. But the entire offense came to a standstill on several possessions, leading to forced drives into traffic and easily convertible turnovers.

“It’s something you always have to stay conscious of,” Spoelstra said. “Even as beautifully as we move the ball sometimes, it’s a game you have to work at. You have to do it under duress, when the defense steps up their pressure, which they did.”

LeBron says he would rather play the ball-movement game and keep his teammates involved. But when he’s got it going, he can also take the offense out of rhythm when calling his own number.

“That is a fine balance in this league,” Spoelstra said. “Because he, along with Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant, they’re the best end-of-possession, bail-you-out options for the offense.

“But that can’t be your offense, and we understand that.”

Ultimately, this comes down to Wade. Will he be able to navigate a healthy path and play at an elite level long enough during the postseason to give the Heat that extra playoff edge they’ve had their last two playoff runs?

Because asking LeBron to carry the load without that help this time around might not be feasible.

Flipping that Heat playoff switch is not an option, either. Not when the margin of error has vanished before the postseason has even started.


VIDEO: A desperate Grizzlies team was too much for LeBron James and the Heat

16 Comments

  1. jdub455 says:

    I don’t think kerr is right… the heat will come through in the east… the only team that can beat ‘em 4 times in a series, is the spurs… that series is a 50/50, slight edge goes to spurs esp if battier doesn’t find his touch from the outside… also, someone must fill-in the shoes of miller who was big during the playoffs…

  2. smh says:

    the heat are fine lol. dwyane wade always seems to have an injury. the man is fully blessed and ready to go. its all about a ring. you’ll see the true miami heats come playoff time.

  3. Mike says:

    As bad as the Heat and Pacers have been playing nobody should be talking about them. The #2 seed does have the easiest road in the east, just because of the ruffness and defense of the bulls. But #1 still has homecourt. I think Pacers will come out of east with brute strength alone, And I really doubt Wade will make it out of the Pacers-Heat Eastern finals with 2 legs. Somebodys going to get hurt in that match-up. Pacers have a better shot at the title, just because they’re better defense. I’ll say OKC-IND in finals… Anything can happen… Pacers won in OKC during the regular season, if we turn up the D, we gotta shot.

    GO PACERS- BLEED GOLD

  4. marty says:

    It seems like the Heat gets the opponents best.The test comes playoff time.Beat em 4 out of 7 then you got something.

  5. Brenda says:

    I believe in the beat, i believe in the heat. Let’s beat the pacer’s. I love you Lebron you are an amazing basketball player always remember that. Get angry at all that doubt The Miami Heat because we are going for a Three Peat””. Let’s Go Heat!!!!

  6. theking0522 says:

    We have heard the same stupid thing for 4 straight years and at the end, they are in the finals. The Heat will be HEALTHY for the finals. That is all you can ask for. Wade won’t play another game so he can rest and Birdman will be ready also. Health; that is all Miami cares about now, because comes playoff time EVERYBODY starts with 0-0. What happened in the regular season won’t matter.

  7. vreyes says:

    I think Lebron will leave the Heat after this year… why? Wade has had it.. and Labron is great but cannot carry the team by himself…. Change will do him good.. re-energize the man…; like getting a new girlfriend..

    And that team he’ll go to — the envelope please: The Knicks; where he’ll end his career..

  8. R-Lo says:

    I don’t think the Heat will three-peat and may not even get into the finals. If they do get into the finals the West will take it for sure. RIP Heat.

  9. cadu1009@hotmail.com says:

    always the same conversasion…You really think Dwayne wont be healthy when playoff comes?You really think he suffering a “hamstring”?The guy played with both knes banged up two straight finals and destroyed….SAS is the only one can beat Miami,or u think guys like Caron Butler coming off de bench ll help in the finals?Golden state have a good bBUT YOUNG TEAM,not ready for the big dogs…Indiana is a regular season team…dont overrate then

  10. therence says:

    I think it is gonna be a though playoff for miami heat ,but if they ll play with energy better thing can happen for them

  11. LBJ says:

    Lebron James won’t win a championship with the Heat. Come to Miami and play with the King! We will trade you future Hall of Famer Norris Cole and a spry and youthful Shane Battier. We can also give Dwayne Wade a home and trade him for the newly rebuilt and stylish Greg Oden.

  12. Sam says:

    I think the Heat would much rather prefer the Spurs face the Grizzlies instead of the Suns in the first round.

  13. I8A4RE says:

    First

  14. James bond says:

    the heat haven’t looked like they wanna win a title all season, but i think they are just coasting like the lakers during their three peat, this team isn’t as good as that lakers team obviously but in both cases the teams didn’t even get the number 1 seed in their conferences and still won the title, i think miami can do it

  15. ism says:

    We have read similar statements before. In early 2013, for example. And the Heat won the Championship. I know, this is a different situation and the fatigue is real. But, dear Sekou, may I remind you of your early-season statement that there were only two situations which will make you start worrying about the Heat?

    First: The Heat are in a Game 7 on the road.

    Second: James, Wade or Bosh suffer a season-ending injury.

    I’d rather stick with those very limited but persuasive criteria than with any other forecasts, as true they might be.
    We have seen this team go through so many ups and downs, its experience may finally outweigh the wear and tear of four seasons that went to the last movement. Betting against the champions at this point seems premature, to me. Just as its seldomly wise to bet against the Spurs.

  16. OK? says:

    Another repeat article…..Heat are better off in the 2 seed anyways……..