So concerned with losing four its last five games, the Heat did not practice on Thursday and also decided to cancel its morning shootaround before Friday’s game against the Denver Nuggets.
In other words, the defending back-to-back champions don’t seem overly concerned about its losing skid at this point.
A reporter posed this question to Dwyane Wade after the Heat’s sloppily played and poorly executed loss to the Nets: The team is flat-lining here in March…are you worried about this stretch?
“Nope,” Wade said without expression or a second’s thought.
Why did Wade respond so curtly to such an innocuous question? Maybe because its premise completely missed the true importance of this stretch of the season.
This time last year, the Heat was running off victory after victory after victory en route to 27 meaningless victories in a row. Yes, it was a special run for players, coaches, executives and fans, but, really, all those wins actually ended up hurting more than they helped.
In the long run, Wade’s body broke down, he limped into the playoffs and the Heat struggled through the final two rounds of the postseason. Wade spent hours daily in the training room to play in games with an injured knee.
This season, Wade and his trainers have done everything possible to prepare Wade for the postseason, and it appears that calculated strategy is beginning to pay off. Here’s what really matters with 20 games left of the regular season, and it’s not a few losses to quality teams in March with no worse than the second seed in the East already all but wrapped up.
Wade is growing stronger every day, and he’s shooting 55.1 percent from the field, which is the best shooting percentage of his career and the best shooting percentage among guards in the entire NBA. Wade is ranked ninth in the NBA in overall field-goal percentage. The next closet guard is Goran Dragic of the Phoenix Suns at 50.8 percent shooting.
And here’s the bottom line: With Wade at his best in the playoffs, the Heat will be tough to beat.
So, as for these recent losses, Wade isn’t wasting time over analyzing the problem.
“I’m not saying there’s no reason,” Wade said. “I’m just not overly concerned. I think it’s stuff that we can fix. If I thought it was stuff that couldn’t be fixed, then I would be concerned.
“It’s little things that can be fixed, and a little better execution, especially at the end of games. We’re a team that plays close games. We don’t really have many blowouts. We play close games, so we’re used to it. It’s just the last four losses we haven’t been able to execute down the stretch like we wanted to.”
Make no mistake, the Heat hates blowing leads in the fourth quarter more than anything, and winning close games for this team is now a badge of honor. But, at this point in the journey, close losses to the Bulls and Nets might serve the Heat better than close wins. If anything, it gives the team’s players something to fix, something that holds their attention.
Oh, it also gives Wade a chance to throw thinly veiled digs at his good buddy LeBron James. James failed to win games at the buzzer against both Chicago and Brooklyn, and Wade isn’t inclined — in Year Four of the Big 3 — to let James off the hook so easily.
“We do need to execute down the stretch,” Wade said. “We need to be able to at least get the ball up to the rim to get a shot. We’re going to have to work on that a little bit. So, we got something to work on as a team in our fourth year together. That’s not a bad thing.”
As for Wade, he has been putting in work behind the scenes all season, and it’s starting to show.
“I just like the program that he has been on,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He has been very diligent. Everybody has been on the same page about it. He has been able to increase everything — not only his games, but his workouts.
“He has been very dedicated. His life has changed quite a bit in his 30s than when he was in his 20s. He spends a lot more time in this facility than he used to, and I think that’s a credit to him adapting. That’s the fountain of youth.”
In addition to working with the Heat’s trainers daily, Wade also has been adhering closely to a schedule laid out by his longtime personal trainer, Tim Grover. Wade missed plenty of games during the first half of the season, but recently the Heat’s starting shooting guard participated in his first back-to-back since Jan.4 and 5.
The second night of those games was the Heat’s victory against the Washington Wizards. Wade had 22 points, six assists, five rebounds and one impressive block against Wizards 6-10 big man Drew Gooden.
On Wednesday, Wade came from behind and blocked a tip-in attempt by Nets big man Andray Blatche. It was an amazing piece of athletic skill, and was arguably Wade’s single greatest highlight on a night he went 8 of 11 from the field.
“I came out of it well,” said Wade of the difficult road trip that ended with a back-to-back. “I’m just going into it game-to-game and day-to-day and see how I feel and trying to play and trying to give my team the best opportunity to win.”
So, maybe next time, Wade should take the final shot.