MIAMI -- There is no shame whatsoever in losing a game to the Memphis Grizzlies these days. In a season of preposterous bits of schedule, the Grizzlies are working through a buzz saw week with remarkable effectiveness.
The latest was hammering the Miami Heat on Friday, a 97-82 win that snapped the Heat’s 17-game home win streak. It happened four days after they’d won in Oklahoma City. And eight days into a nine-day stretch in which the Grizzlies play seven games, five on the road and six against teams currently in playoff position. They’re a strong 4-2.
There is also no shame whatsoever in Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s strong denial that his team has been yo-yoing recently because of fatigue. This is true, even his own players admit it, but it is part of a coach’s responsibility to push his team and not give them excuses to fall on. Not overreacting, positively or negatively, to bad games is usually a trait that works well for coaches.
Whether Spoelstra needed to go on another bizarre rant following the game -- he’s been doing this more and more over the past couple of weeks, first becoming very demonstrative on the sideline during games and then attacking conspiracy theories, even ones that don’t seem to be known, in various news conferences -- is another matter.
On this night, Spoelstra complained about the “storyline” that his team was fatigued and then went on a tirade about how the media was bored and predicted that in six or seven years reporters would be suggesting teams “shut it down after the All-Star break.” A story on ESPN.com on Friday suggested that with the Heat’s players showing some fatigue, perhaps the team should start giving their players some days off before the playoffs.
Spoelstra, obviously in complete disagreement, kept LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in the game until there was 1:45 left on Friday, even though the Heat were down 21 points with five minutes to play. Then he called a practice for Saturday afternoon. He’s a man of principle.
Meanwhile, a few feet away in the locker room, one of his captains talked about how fatigue played a role in the Heat’s first home loss in 10 weeks.
“I said it to myself in the warm-up line; I’m like, 'It might be one of those nights, Jesus,'" Wade said. “I hoped it wasn’t, but it was. Everybody is fatigued, that’s the kind of season it is. Everybody around the league. Some nights it is going to be great, some nights it’s not.”
Wade was being honest. But when he came up short on two dunk attempts in the first half, there was plenty of visual data anyway.
Moving past that “storyline,” it’s more likely that Spoelstra has been getting more testy with his team and then letting it bleed over into sessions in which he scolds the media -- kicking the dog as it were -- because the Heat continue to struggle to find consistency. It’s getting on his nerves and, with the playoffs approaching, the pressure is starting to mount.
That victory over the Thunder on Wednesday night was strong. But their effort Friday -- there were 11 turnovers in the first quarter -- was not consistent. That is what is at the root of the coach’s frustration.
He’s got a team that was not only the title favorite to start the season, but had solidified it by late February when they had the league’s best record.
Now, he’s got a team that isn’t performing at the same level as its peers. Whether he wants to consider the fatigue factor or not, the standings, as James said, do not lie.
He’s got a rookie point guard, Norris Cole, who is now shooting 22 percent over the past 13 games and is 2-of-21 over the past four. He changed his starting center 50 games into the season and replaced him with a player signed two weeks earlier. He’s got a starting power forward in Chris Bosh -- who set a goal at the start of the season to average 10 rebounds a game -- averaging the fewest rebounds since his rookie season. After getting four in 35 minutes Friday, Bosh said: “I don’t really pay attention to the rebounds individually.”
There is Spoelstra’s offense, which averaged 103 points for the first 34 games, that is now averaging just 94 points over the past 20 games. The Grizzlies became the third team in the past week to hold the Heat to worse than 41 percent shooting.
The coach and his team have a lot of problems to fix and limited time to fix them. The fatigue is just one factor and it is also one, Spoelstra believes, his team should just push through. He’s been changing his lineups and rotations and pouring in work around the games to try to snap the Heat back to championship form.
This week players watched some film from last season’s Finals meltdown against the Dallas Mavericks, a motivational tool aimed to remind them what this season is all about. It’s effect, like just about everything else that has been tried recently, appears to have been limited.
“We have a high ceiling,” Spoelstra has said repeatedly over the past few weeks. “We have a lot to improve on like a lot of teams. Nobody is perfect.”
Finally, a “storyline” everyone can agree on.