MIAMI -- All things considered, this might look like rock bottom for the Miami Heat.
Their top two point guards are sidelined because of injuries, including a strained calf that has starter Goran Dragic out indefinitely. Two others, forward Josh McRoberts and center Chris Andersen, are also out for the foreseeable future because of knee injuries while clogging up nearly $10 million in salary cap space that could have been used on a much-needed shooter instead of two seldom-used big men.
Then there's Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- Miami's catalysts who are growing weary of a season that only appears to get tougher, more painful and increasingly frustrating with each demoralizing home loss.
And the consolation prize that awaited following a listless-from-start-to-finish effort in Tuesday's 91-79 setback to the Milwaukee Bucks? It's another lengthy trip that starts Wednesday in Washington amid a stretch in which the Heat (23-19) must play 14 of 16 games away from home.
Typically, teams that are four games above .500 don't feel this low. But having dropped six of its past eight games, including four by double-figure margins, Miami is rapidly trending toward a troubling truth. No, this isn't rock bottom for the Heat. But they're closing in on the vicinity.
That dreaded destination won't clearly come into focus until team president Pat Riley accepts that his grand vision for this team just may have deceived him. Under normal circumstances, most front office executives need the first 20 or so games of the season to get a true gauge on where their team stands and what roster adjustments might be needed to maximize its potential.
Around the time when an 18-point loss in Charlotte dropped Miami to 12-8 in early December, Riley had already extended his evaluation window of the Heat out to 40 games. Now that Miami is just past the midway point of the season, the same disturbing signs that were evident then remain visible now.
If the Heat expect to contend with the Cleveland Cavaliers for a conference championship with this roster as currently constructed, they're only kidding themselves. Twenty games ago, it was obvious the Heat were one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in a league where success or failure is measured from at least 22 feet out. Six weeks later, that hasn't changed.
Against the Bucks, Miami misfired on 17 of 22 attempts from beyond the arc. Counting Andersen, McRoberts, Udonis Haslem, Amar'e Stoudemire and Jarnell Stokes, the Heat have about $15 million this season allocated to a reserve power rotation players they barely use. If even half of that allotment could be flipped via trade into acquiring a reserve shooting specialist, the Heat's offense drastically improves instantly.
"You have to find other ways," coach Erik Spoelstra said of the shooting struggles, particularly on a night when the Heat were without Dragic and Beno Udrih to guide the offense. "Some of them I didn't have a problem in the second half. You can tell when it's an open shot, whether there's a rhythm to it. We missed some of those. And you build on those. And we also had frustrating offensive possessions."
Helping this current roster find other ways is Spoelstra's job.
But finding other players? Well, that falls on Riley. And one of the league's most aggressive and daring executives has his work cut out for him with the NBA trade deadline a month away.
Riley didn't hesitate to make a bold move this time last year, when he parted with two future first-round picks and marginal role players in a deal to acquire Dragic from Phoenix. Riley then doubled down on that investment when Dragic signed a five-year, $85 million deal in free agency last summer despite legitimate questions whether he was an ideal fit alongside Wade and within Miami's slower system.
While it's easy to dismiss the Heat's last two losses by a combined 37 points to the absence of Dragic and Udrih, the harder task is to accept the fact that their offense wasn't exactly clicking on a consistent level before those injuries essentially left the offense without any direction.
Tyler Johnson is a promising developmental prospect, but he's not an NBA-ready point guard. And rookie Josh Richardson is a gifted athlete and aggressive defender, but he's hardly a facilitator. The one move Riley made this season so far was to deal away erratic veteran Mario Chalmers so that Johnson and Richardson, in part, could move into more prominent roles.
The Heat would be making a grave mistake to look around the rest of the East and simply point out how their struggles aren't unique. That might disguise the symptoms, but it doesn't address the problem. Miami had issues before the injuries started to pile up. Is this team salvageable?
The quick answer is yes, and that's because there aren't many other alternatives when Wade is playing on a one-year deal and Bosh is in the middle of a max contract. It's yes when you've already mortgaged part of your future to leverage a trade for Dragic, and when Hassan Whiteside has posted five consecutive double-doubles while leading the league in blocked shots as the NBA's best basement bargain.
"Guys are going to be out for a while, and the schedule goes on. ... You have to have a breaking point, get over it and keep going. We have to hit our ceiling as far as our frustration level is concerned."Chris Bosh
But even those answers don't ease the sobering reality the Heat face at the moment.
"Guys are going to be out for a while, and the schedule goes on," Bosh said. "No matter what happens, we have to work on our mental toughness right now. You have to have a breaking point, get over it and keep going. We have to hit our ceiling as far as our frustration level is concerned."
Bosh then insisted the Heat must dig themselves out of the hole they're in, "because it's not going to happen from an outside source."
Riley has faith in this roster. But it's also time to face the facts.
Outside help might be required to save this season.