The defending champions continue to struggle, Greg Oden actually played in an NBA game, and Jimmy Butler worked a lot of overtime. Our 5-on-5 crew weighs in on these topics and more.
1. The Heat have lost three games in a row. Is that a big deal?
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: Probably not, although the caliber of opponent they've lost to is somewhat troubling (combined win-loss record: 48-64). As the two-time defending champs, the Heat get the benefit of the doubt in that we expect them to be able to flip the switch and be tremendous on demand. At some point, they'll have to start playing with attention to detail and effort, but that point hasn't arrived yet.
Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com: It is for those who haven't been paying attention for the past three-plus seasons. It's almost as if Miami needs stretches like this to remember how difficult it is to play at a championship level. Even LeBron James was in denial when he said he wasn't "coasting." He still looked like he was on cruise control in the first quarter against Washington.
James Herbert, Hardwood Paroxysm: No. The Heat's defense has slipped, as it did at the beginning of this season and for stretches last year. They will need to step it up on that side of the floor if they want to catch the Pacers, but there's no reason to freak out.
Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: It's a Muggsy Bogues-sized deal. Even with the dip, the Heat are only 3½ games behind Indiana for the top seed in the East with more than half a season to go. Lest we forget, Miami reeled off 27 straight wins last season. They are just fine.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop: It would be if this were 2011. In 2014, the Heat are trusted and allowed to lose quietly. They looked awful this last game especially, but it's a long season. Miami's defensive style works only when it gives max effort. It's hard to fret over its failures in the regular season.
2. Greg Oden played eight minutes Wednesday. Is that a big deal?
Elhassan: Yes! He hadn't played a minute of meaningful basketball in four years and didn't look too out of place in limited minutes Wednesday night. Sure, it was during a blowout, but Oden made an impact on the game, keeping the ball alive on the offensive glass, contesting several shots around the rim and allowing only one offensive rebound in his time on the floor. And that's not even counting the two shots he made!
Gutierrez: Huge deal on the "feel good" scale. To-be-determined level of deal on the basketball scale. Oden's challenge isn't simply getting back on the court, but staying there. Until the Heat know he can be relied upon to contribute significant minutes in April, May and June, he's much more of a heartwarming story than a championship contributor.
Herbert: Yes, because Oden looked pretty nimble. He is likely a long way from being able to contribute consistently, but this was an encouraging first step. His minutes Wednesday will have the Heat hopeful, dreaming about a day when Oden stepping on the floor is an ordinary occurrence.
McMenamin: It's a London Eye-sized deal. How many retired NBA players are out there right now who wish they had given it one more shot before ultimately hanging it up? Oden's six points and two rebounds might not lead to a career renaissance back to his brief double-double days with Portland, but at least he'll be able to sleep well in the future knowing that he gave it his all.
Strauss: Yes. Everything Oden did in that loss to the Wizards felt far more important than the game itself. Caution is warranted when it comes to Oden, but it was starting to look as though we would never see him this season. If he's a factor, it helps Miami massively against its toughest opponent (Indiana).
3. Jimmy Butler played 60 minutes Wednesday. Is that a big deal?
Elhassan: Yes. It is indicative of the Bulls' lack of depth and Tom Thibodeau's disregard for keeping his guys fresh. His penchant for running players into the ground has to be a topic of concern for Bulls head honcho John Paxson, who once allegedly physically confronted Vinny Del Negro for playing Joakim Noah 2 minutes and 5 seconds over a playing-time limit.
Gutierrez: Yes and no. No because he scored 21 points with six assists and seven rebounds. Per 36 minutes, that's 12.6 points, 3.6 assists and 4.2 rebounds. Not great. Kidding, of course. But yes because it's a franchise record Michael Jordan doesn't have. Take that, MJ! Oh, and yes because his coach is Tom Thibodeau. Hang in there, knees.
Herbert: It is, but at this point it's not even surprising with Thibodeau. There's no way the banged-up Butler should have to do that, but Thibs played him 48 minutes in a preseason game last season.
McMenamin: It's a Starbucks "tall"-sized deal. Yes, Butler's overtime effort helped Chicago secure its sixth win out of seven games in the new year, but he also shot just 6-for-17 with four turnovers in the process. Five players on the Bulls and Magic played less than Butler did and scored more than his 21 points. Plus, as I noted on Twitter on Wednesday, Butler still came up short of the 67-minute standard set by Jonny Flynn in that six-overtime classic between my Syracuse Orange and the UConn Huskies a couple of years back.
Strauss: Yes. Why on earth is he averaging 44.5 minutes over his past four games? Wasn't the Luol Deng trade a tacit admission that Chicago should tank? The Bulls could badly use draft pick talent, and instead Thibodeau is trying to escape the lottery by overusing recent draft pick talent. This isn't the best dynamic.
4. The Spurs have won six games in a row. Is that a big deal?
Elhassan: Nothing the Spurs do at this point, other than announcing the abrupt retirement of Tim Duncan or the trade of Tony Parker, is a big deal. They're going to win a lot of games during a stretch and end up with a top-three record in the conference. Wake me up if they lose six in a row.
Gutierrez: Not to the Spurs. To them, winning six in a row is called January. This is when the Spurs' consistency and playing style benefit them greatly. While some teams, even the elite ones, can go into a midseason funk, the Spurs roll on. The only big deals for these Spurs would be winning a title, suffering a significant injury or going on some extended losing streak. Everything else, like this win streak, is status quo.
Herbert: No, because success never seems like a big deal with the Spurs. They're just quietly beating teams, as they tend to do. Perhaps if they win their next three, including a matchup with the Blazers and a national TV game against the Thunder, this will start to feel like a story.
McMenamin: It's a Ford Focus-sized deal. The Spurs can't be completely over losing Game 7 of the NBA Finals in June on the road, and there has to be some questioning of how that series would have gone down if it ended in San Antonio rather than Miami. Their recent surge keeps them lockstep with Indiana for the league's best record (and ahead of the Heat and any other Western Conference foe), which could pay off if they can sustain it until playoff time.
Strauss: Yes, because they were looking a bit shaky by their standards before that stretch. Lineups that combine Duncan and Tiago Splitter continue to struggle, but the bench has been incredible. Marco Belinelli and Boris Diaw deserve an award for being a great bench tandem, if only such an award existed.
5. The Lakers have lost six games in a row. Is that a big deal?
Elhassan: Not for those of us who live in a loud and scary place known as "the real world."
Gutierrez: It is because it essentially confirms that one of the glamour franchises in the NBA should embrace the losing and benefit from it. It's not an indictment of Mike D'Antoni or his players, who, it could easily be argued, have been overachieving. It's simply such an unfamiliar experience that it feels like a big deal.
Herbert: Not really. The Lakers are undermanned and overmatched every night. It has been fun to see Kendall Marshall rack up assists, but this team is exhausted by the end of every game and the defense is a disaster.
McMenamin: It's a Cadillac Escalade-sized deal. It's not just six losses in a row, but six losses where they've allowed 110 points or more in a row. Not to mention 12 losses in their past 13 games. The Lakers, who came into the season with the league's fourth-highest payroll at $78.7 million, haven't just failed; they've failed in spectacular fashion. After this current slump, they find themselves better off losing games to secure a better draft position than winning them with the postseason all but out of the question the rest of the way.
Strauss: A great big deal if you're a Lakers fan with long-term hopes. They don't have anything to play for this season, save for pride, and they badly need young talent. The losses are painful now but a good development for those who want this franchise to bounce back from this low point.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Israel Gutierrez writes for ESPN.com. Amin Elhassan writes for ESPN Insider. Dave McMenamin writes for ESPN LA. James Herbert and Ethan Sherwood Strauss write for TrueHoop.
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