Just when it appeared as though they had locked down a spot above the play-in fray in the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat allowed uncertainty to creep back in.
After winning four games in five tries — including a big one over the New York Knicks on Wednesday — Jimmy Butler and Co. got waxed at home by a scuffling Brooklyn Nets squad, 129-100, despite having multiple days off beforehand.
Consequently, the Nets leapfrogged the Heat in the standings, leaving Erik Spoelstra‘s squad in the play-in range once again with just seven regular-season games left on the schedule.
While fans and pundits alike were left scratching their heads amid the latest setback — which saw Miami’s opponent nail 18 threes, in addition to finishing plus-15 on second-chance points and plus-11 in the fastbreak — Coach Spo has clearly come to expect the slog. He just wishes his team would do a better job of responding to it.
Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra Says His Team Needs to ‘Embrace the Struggle’
Asked during his postgame presser if he was surprised by the Heat’s lackluster performance given their proximity to Brooklyn in the playoff race, Spoelstra scoffed at the notion. Of course, he has been riding the roller-coaster since opening night back in October.
“I’m not surprised about anything that’s happened at all this season,” Spoelstra said, via Bally Sports Florida. “We’ve said this a few times — and it remains true — there has been nothing easy about this season. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be a negative thing. You have to embrace the struggle.
“You have to figure out ways to stay together, stay on the saddle and then persevere.”
On this occasion, the Heat were unable to do those things. And while Spoelstra is fully aware of the bumps and bruises his players have incurred and the rigors that they’re enduring on a daily basis, he won’t allow his crew to use them as excuses for what happened against the Nets.
“Our group has great collective competitive character. There’s so many teams that are going through similar things. You’re dealing with a lot of competitive emotions and then you have to perform and compete at a high level. We just got categorically outplayed.”
The Heat’s Defense Continued its Downward Move
For the campaign, the Heat continue to sit among the better defensive squads in the NBA. As of this writing, Miami ranks ninth league-wide with a defensive rating of 112.9. Since February 24, however, the Heat have conceded a whopping 118.8 points per 100 possessions, a number that ranks 24th league-wide over that span. Meanwhile, their 14.3 three-point buckets allowed during that stretch ranks 27th.
And it was more of the same against the Nets.
“We have not been defending at a world-class level the way we’re capable of,” Spoelstra said. “Tonight, even in the first half (when the Heat led almost the entire way), they were moving our defense and they had some open looks. They just missed some…
“They had wide-open looks with some quick ball movement, quick slips — just high-motor stuff — and did a job a good job of finding the open guy and not missing moments. And then the second half just became an avalanche from there.”