The Heat looked locked into the top seed in the Eastern Conference not so long ago. Losses to the Sixers without Joel Embiid and James Harden, to the Warriors without Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, and to the Knicks without Julius Randle put Miami under considerable pressure ahead of their game with Brooklyn on Saturday. It was the latest in a string of disappointing Miami Heat results.

While they blew fourth quarter leads in the previous three losses, Miami was never competitive against the Nets. None of Brooklyn’s starters played in the fourth quarter. Miami has dropped to the two seed in the East.

Miami Heat results 2021-22

The skirmish between Erik Spoelstra and Jimmy Butler has received a lot of attention. Perhaps this is a conflict that takes place behind closed doors on a frequent basis and there’s little to read into it. Perhaps it is a sign of something deeper impacting a team at the worst possible time. Miami is playing its worst basketball of the season, and that conflict hasn’t done anything to reinvigorate them down the stretch.

The timing of this slump is peculiar. The Heat have finally got healthy. This was the moment to ramp up for the postseason.

       

In fairness, we should mention that Tyler Herro missed two of those losses, and the Miami offense is considerably less effective without the Sixth Man of the Year favorite. Still, Herro has been cold in the other two games, going 10-for-29 from the field against Philly and Brooklyn.

Other than Herro, though, Miami is finally whole. Kyle Lowry, Butler and Bam Adebayo are flanked by a deep supporting cast with Victor Oladipo even making his long-awaited return.

Instead of stepping up, the Heat have floundered. Each of these losses would be easy to brush off in isolation. It’s very different when they are grouped together and there is such a public fall out. This was a team supposedly built on defense, which has the 24th defensive rating in the league over the last four. The offense ranks in the bottom half of the league since the All-Star break, too.

Butler’s well-publicized clutch struggles are a concern for a team which had some question marks about its halfcourt offense. Will Lowry be more aggressive as a scorer? Can Herro survive on defense against the league’s elite?

Limited time remaining

The Heat might not care about seeding. Falling out of the top two is potentially a blessing with the Nets looming in the seven or eight spot (assuming they make it out of the Play-In). Others could try to tank their way down the standings, but with the way the Heat are playing and the tricky games left on their schedule, they might not have much choice.

Monday’s game with the Sacramento Kings is suddenly huge. Extend the losing run to five before a rough three-game road trip and the alarm bells could start to ring. There is a very real risk that Miami goes into a first round series having lost eight of its last 11 games. Teams have bounced back from such circumstances to regain their best form in the playoffs, but it is far from ideal preparation for a team which has already coped with so much disruption this season.

Getting the defense in order is paramount. They are going to have some slow nights on offense, but they need to be able to rely on the other end of the floor come playoff time.

Miami was set to stroll into the playoffs, quietly being underrated as a title contender. Suddenly, they look like an upset candidate in the first round. It can all change again over the next fortnight, but the clock is ticking on a season which could end up being a case of what could have been.

Heat remaining schedule

  • March 28th – Kings
  • March 30th – @ Celtics
  • April 2nd – @ Bulls
  • April 3rd – @ Raptors
  • April 5th – Hornets
  • April 8th – Hawks
  • April 10th – @ Magic

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