MIAMI — Re-introduce yourself to the Miami Heat, still the NBA’s most hated team, but now they’re hated for a new reason – because it appears they don’t always play hard, because it seems as though they get bored, they coast.
Somehow, this group, despite having the NBA’s third-best record at 37-14, is re-defining Heat Hate. Who knew there was an extra flavor of Haterade?
“We’re a tale of two teams sometimes,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
And that’s exactly what makes people dislike this incredibly talented Heat team: that casual, laid-back “we’ll turn it on when we have to” vibe the players seem to send during losses such as Sunday’s 91-72 shellacking at Boston.
Last year the Heat Hate stemmed largely from three things: People thought the Big Three of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh was a sellout because they joined forces; they thought the Heat was way too obnoxious for a crew that hadn’t won anything; they grew to loathe LeBron James for “The Decision”.
Well, the No. 1 complaint about this year’s Heat team is their attitude.
After a blah month of March, it sometimes appears they don’t care about the regular season, that they feel it’s largely insignificant, that all that will matter is best-of-sevens. It’s an ugly accusation, and it represents one of the most deplorable characteristics in all of professional sports. It labels folks as slackers, guys who don’t respect the game and the way it should be played.
Forward Chris Bosh, among the most candid players in the league, didn’t help in that regard after Monday’s practice.
“If we have that sense of urgency,” Bosh said, “I feel we are the best team in the league.”
Bosh’s remark is the latest reason for the new round of Heat Hate, justified or not.
Here’s another reason.
The Heat is 4-7 on the road since the All-Star break, and none of its last four road games (three losses and one win) has been impressive. The win at Toronto was a bit sluggish, and the losses at Oklahoma City, Indiana and Boston were borderline embarrassing.
Never mind that Miami has the NBA’s fourth-best road record at 16-12. This is perception versus reality, and the perception says the Heat is bored, that they don’t care.
So, again, we go to Monday, after practice.
Once again, the Heat said something people don’t want to hear.
“Are we playing the best basketball right now? No,” Wade said. “There’s about five teams playing better basketball than us. But obviously we feel we’re one of the best teams in the league. What are we, 37-14? That’s not that bad.”
Not bad? People want the Big Three to chase history, to be the best regular season team ever. They don’t want to hear “not bad.” The expectations bar has been set too high.
People accuse the Heat of doing too little with so much, and that might be fair. After all, they didn’t win the title last year. But in the past month or so that sentiment has re-emerged, and it’s morphing into a new hostility.
To the Heat’s credit, they don’t often have this affliction against good teams such as the Bulls, Spurs or Lakers. The Heat came out flat against the Thunder in an ugly 103-87 loss last week, but it wasn’t because the Heat thought they could “turn it on” whenever they wanted. They were just flat. And they got beat. That happens.
But here’s something we learned last year about this Heat team: they don’t cruise in the playoffs. OK, maybe they did once, in Game 4 against Philadelphia in the first round, when they blew a chance to sweep the 76ers. But the lackadaisical attitude didn’t arise again in the playoffs.
So that’s not a concern. Or it shouldn’t be a concern. The No. 1 postseason concern should be whether LeBron James comes through in the fourth quarter of the Finals games, if Miami makes it there.
Here’s another thing you might not like to hear about this Heat team – they’re wired a bit differently. Ideally, you’d like the most talented teams in the league to chase the best record in the league, to go for homecourt advantage in every round of the playoffs. That’s not a priority with this group.
This Heat team watches the standings. They know they’re almost locked into the No. 2 playoff seed in the East behind Chicago and ahead of Orlando, and they know just much cushion they have on either side. They’ll give an honest effort chasing that No. 1 seed, but they won’t expend extra energy in these final dozen or so games. They chased hard earlier in the season, but they probably won’t any longer.
That’s another reason for the new round of Heat Hate.
In the meantime, winning, of course, cures everything. James knows that. He points to that serene time back in the day (we’re talking February) when the Heat had an eight-game winning streak, had rehabilitated their tarnished image and were the darlings of the NBA.
Back then. there was no talk of this new round of Heat Hate.
“We have to just get back to playing how we were before the break,” James said.
Chris Perkins is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com, covering the NBA and the Miami Heat. His columns regularly appear every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter.