The last time Boston played Miami, the Celtics won so convincingly (91-72 on April 1) it prompted the Heat to call a players-only meeting.
“Everybody who was here last year had something to say at that meeting,” guard Mario Chalmers told SheridanHoops.com.
That April Fool’s Day loss at Boston dropped the Heat to 4-7 on the road since the All-Star break. It was time to address a truth, one first mentioned by coach Erik Spoelstra. The Heat had lost the motivating pain of that Game 6 Finals loss to Dallas. They had to get back to “that dark place,” as they say. That’s what that players-only meeting was about.
“Just getting back to the hurt,” forward LeBron James told me.
This week, as the Heat barrels into a pair of gut-check games – hosting Boston on Tuesday, and visiting Chicago on Thursday – we’ll see if the main message of that meeting is resonating.
The Heat, just two games behind Chicago for the best record in the East, is 3-1 since that players-only meeting. They defeated Philadelphia and Oklahoma City in back-to-back games before losing to Memphis, ending a 17-game home win streak. Miami came back to crush Detroit on Sunday, running its record to 10-1 without guard Dwyane Wade (ankle) in the lineup.
It’s too early to say whether the meeting is responsible for anything that’s happened, good or bad, in the last week or so. But the meeting got everyone’s attention. The Heat never wants to forget the pain of losing Game 6, they always want to maintain a memory of “that dark place.”
“Guys put themselves back in that position,” James said, “back in that place, back in this locker room when we lost Game 6 and they were celebrating on our floor.”
This was grown-up talk, a time for the veterans who lived the circus of last season and the crushing pain of that loss.
“We didn’t give the young guys the opportunity to say anything,” Haslem said. “Those guys just listened.”
Haslem and Chalmers even went home and watched part of the Game 6 Finals video. They wanted to re-live the pain with visuals, “to get that feeling back again,” Chalmers said.
That wasn’t necessary for James.
“It’s all in your mind,” he said, pointing to his head. “It’s right here.”
It’s my theory that nothing results from most team meetings. They’re just like the meetings you have in your office. Everybody walks away fired up, but one month later the same problems are back.
If that happens with the Heat, they’re doomed. They won’t win the title. That was one of the driving forces of this meeting.
“We just have to remember that sometimes the best motivation is to remember the disappointment and the pain,” forward Chris Bosh said, “and I think with this season we kind of got away from that a little bit. So we just have to remind ourselves we came up short last year.”
For those who wonder what Spoelstra does as the Heat’s head coach, keep in mind this meeting might not have happened if not for his reminder that the players had lost their edge.
“Spo mentioned it. Spo brought it up and just said that the pain we played with that first game against Dallas was so obvious,” Haslem said. “I think when we’re playing like that…like a desperate team, I think we’re at our best.”
The Heat seems to have a very clear picture of things and a firm grasp on reality, which might not have been the case a year ago. This year’s Heat seems to have a bit more grounding, more maturity, more perspective. And James seems to be leading the way using, believe it or not, common sense.
“Every team is going to go through a part in the season where you have some lulls and things like that, the schedule gets crazy,” he said. “But we have to understand what we’re playing for. We’re not playing to win a regular season game. We’re playing to win the whole thing.”
The more James talked, the more he made sense. He talked about forming good habits – no slacking off, no taking opponents lightly — and continuing them throughout the regular season, every game.
“It starts now,” James said. “You can’t turn it on in the postseason. You’ve got to start now. You’ve got to build habits now, and then when the postseason comes it’s second nature to you.
“We understand that, and guys remember that point and time when it hurt us last year in the Finals, and we just went back to that dark place to understand what it takes.”
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.