Amid slump, Heat hold extended practice
April, 2, 2012
By Tom Haberstroh
Greg M. Cooper/US Presswire
Erik Spoelstra isn't happy with his team's recent effort and made sure they understood why on film.
MIAMI -- Pat Riley sat back in a chair with his arms crossed across his chest and his legs outstretched in front of him, closely watching the Heat players take their free throws after practice. No, his presence on Monday wasn't unusual; the Heat president has attended almost every Heat practice this season as an observer from the sidelines of the team's practice court.
But after the Heat's most recent slump, his presence hung in the air like a lingering storm cloud. He was there chatting it up with coach Erik Spoelstra, probably receiving a debriefing from his coach who sat on the edge of a table nearby. Spoelstra had just wrapped up a practice that ran 90 minutes longer than usual, after which he delivered one of his most fiery media sessions of the season.
It's easy to see why. Riley and Spoelstra were about 24 hours removed from watching their team get trampled by the Celtics in Boston on Sunday, yet another disappointing road loss for the suddenly stalling Heat.
"Yesterday was unacceptable," the normally-reserved Spoelstra said. "Today, we worked as a group to fix it."
With a back-to-back against the 76ers and Thunder on the horizon, the Heat took the day off from a physical standpoint. They spent most of their time watching film from Sunday's game and then lightly going over their schemes on the court. But even after finishing the film session, the bitterness from the loss was palpable.
"They blew us off their court," Spoelstra said. "There’s no 'ifs,' 'ands' or 'buts' about it. Every facet of the game, they out-competed and out-played us."
With the rout in Boston, the Heat have now lost seven of their last eight games on the road against winning teams. Four of those losses have been decided by double-digits.
"There’s no secret to it, we’re not the Miami Heat in the last three weeks on the road for whatever reason," Spoelstra said. "All we can do is work at it.”
Work on it they did. This isn't the first time the Heat have gone through an extended film session. After the double-digit loss in Oklahoma City on Mar. 24, the Heat watched their catalog of turnovers and dissected their overall sloppy play in recent games. But it didn't seem to have much of an effect on Sunday as the Heat got pounded by 21 points by an older Celtics team who don't have the advantage of having fresh legs. The Heat are hoping that this marathon film session will have different results.
The team got a refresher on the team's schemes and they ironed out their defensive principles, something that Spoelstra holds at the top of the team's priority list. Led by Rajon Rondo and his 14 assists, the Celtics ran circles around the Heat's normally air-tight defense. Although the Heat scored just 72 points, the focus of the film session was on both ends of the floor.
"When you're going through it, you could feel like there's a million things going on, but when you sit down and break it down on film, it's simple," Dwyane Wade said. "If life was like that, we’d all be better people.”
On the outside, it seems that fatigue has played a part of their struggles and the condensed schedule has caught up to them. The Heat haven't been the up-tempo, high-octane squad that pummeled opponents back in the opening month of the season. The Heat averaged a scorching 102 possessions in their four games in December, but pulled back to an average of about 94 possessions in January and February. In March, the Heat slowed to a crawl, averaging 91 possessions during a month where they put up a underwhelming 10-6 record. The accelerated pace that propelled the team to an 8-1 start? That's in the rear-view mirror.
"As everybody knows and is on everybody’s scouting report, so much of our energy is generated from our activity and confidence from defense," Spoelstra said. "We’re an ignitable group, we understand that, but it takes a big commitment to play at our necessary energy level."
Although Spoelstra and Wade did cite a lack of energy and focus, the team wouldn't label fatigue as a factor. LeBron was adamant that the team won't use it as an excuse.
“Everyone [in the league] has fatigue at this point," LeBron said before returning the focus back to the reporters. "You have fatigue. I know you get tired of coming back here every other day. Everyone has fatigue at this point."
If not fatigue, the Heat are hoping that the problems on the road can be solved by concentration and attention to detail. It's also worth pointing out that the Heat have fourth-best road record in the league so perhaps the panic heard around South Florida might be reactionary. But Spoelstra wasn't the only one to characterize the Heat as two-faced this season.
"We know we haven’t been playing well on the road, it’s something that we have to fix," LeBron said. "We’re a totally different team at home. We wish we could have another road game tomorrow and redeem ourselves."
Redemption on the road will have to wait for another 10 days until they meet the Bulls in Chicago. But the Heat will have a chance to turn it around on Tuesday against the 76ers before taking on the Thunder again on Wednesday. A successful run here at the end of the regular season finish could go a long way in turning Riley into a more satisfied observer of his squad.