A week that began with Miami clinging the No. 5 spot in the Eastern Conference standings ended with two losses in three games and a fall to what would be the eighth and final playoff spot.
While there is not necessarily panic in the Heat's locker room after this stumble, there is disappointment. There is the feeling of having blown plenty of opportunities to show otherwise. There is also perspective. Heat players and coaches admitted they certainly watch the standings, which came as somewhat of a surprise, because I expected them to take the too-cool-to-stew approach and say the standings don't really matter right now. That there's plenty of basketball left to play.
So that had to make Sunday's view from eighth place a bit humbling Sunday.
"Hell yeah, absolutely," center Jermaine O'Neal said of checking the standings. "You never know what it's going to come down to. There are tie-breakers and everything, and that means a lot. Especially in a conference where a lot of teams are 2, 3 or 4 games (within) each other. We've had opportunities to separate ourselves. There have been a couple of tough breaks and we haven't gotten it done."
The truth is there are too many games left to be anywhere near the panic stage. But another truth is that Chicago, Charlotte and Toronto overcame rough patches and inconsistent play to get on rolls lately.
Toronto is so hot right now that GM Bryan Colangelo has come out to say that talk of trading Bosh before the February deadline - or maybe ever - is simply crazy. Remember how Vinny del Negro was practically a dead man walking in the Windy City? Not anymore. The Bulls' five-game road winning streak is the best the franchise has seen since Jordan, Pippen, Jackson. And fans might not be showing up in Charlotte, but the Bobcats certainly are every night, road or away.
The Heat, meanwhile, continue to be a collection of moving parts that don't always fit. And now, those pieces have been breaking down recently with injuries. But still, barring a major injury to Dwyane Wade or Michael Beasley, the Heat will make the playoffs.
Bank on it. But just making it was never the goal for Miami. Not even in this diminished season of expectations amid the wait for the 2010 summer - or sooner - makeover. That's what makes the view from eighth street a bit disturbing, regardless of how quickly things can turn around for this bunch.
OK. But there's faith. And then there's eighth.
It basically comes down to this: Teams that made moves or improved from within last summer are now moving past Miami in the standings. The Heat stood still then, and is essentially now running in place.
Right down 8th.