About 15 hours removed from one of the Heat’s most impressive wins of the season, a 115-99 nationally televised thumping of Boston, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra arrived for his Friday media briefing thoroughly displeased, making clear that what his team served up in the first half of the season simply isn’t good enough.
“I’m not happy about where we are,” he said repeatedly, with his 20-20 team reaching the midpoint of its season Saturday against visiting Memphis. “We’re not happy about where we are. Yesterday was yesterday. It was a great competitive game on a Thursday night. [Saturday] is the game I want to see a difference in our approach.”
Spoelstra declined to specifically say what is upsetting him, beyond the usual inconsistency in play. But Tyler Johnson made clear the staff is upset with the volume of losses to teams below .500.
Miami is 5-10 against the six teams directly below the Heat in the Eastern Conference standings, including 0-3 against both Charlotte and Atlanta and 1-2 against Orlando. The Heat is .500 against both teams above .500 and below .500 at the time Miami played them.
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“The thing is, it’s not the top teams we worry about,” Johnson said. “It’s the below-.500 teams and nonplayoff teams we have an issue with. This team is really talented and we get up for those games, for the Bostons, Milwaukees, Torontos, Denvers. It’s the below-.500 teams we struggle with. They’re still in the NBA, regardless of what their record is… You have to show them the same respect you show other people.”
Johnson notes the Heat could have been six or seven games above .500 if it had won more of those games against subpar teams.
“If we just took care of nonplayoff teams and below-.500 teams, basically we could be in fourth place right now [instead of sixth in the East],” he said.
Dwyane Wade said “no one wants to sit at .500 [or below]… The goal is to be better each year. To reach that, we’ve got to play better in the second half than we did in the first half. I think we’re a better team than 20-20, but we’re 20-20.”
So any delight over climbing back to .500 from a 7-13 hole has long since dissipated, replaced by the frustration of losses to lottery teams and an ability to build on last year’s 44-38.
“We’re still .500, so it’s about where we’ve been in this whole three seasons we’ve kind of been together,” Johnson said. “So it’s probably a little bit frustrating for everybody.”
Spoelstra went 11 deep in the first half Thursday, which is rare for him, and Wade said there is a benefit to that because “you play your minutes hard. We have a lot of light guys, so you just keep bringing it more and more and more.
“Everyone wants to get to a short rotation, right? Everyone wants to get to a nine-man rotation, but we got multiple guys that can play and it’s a long season, so I think it’s good for us right now.”
But Johnson, who was the 11th to enter Thursday’s game, spoke candidly Friday about the challenge of having so many similarly skilled players on the roster.
“It’s easy to become impatient because you feel like the ball is not coming your way a few times and maybe you feel personally like it could,” he said. “The fact of the matter is there are basically 14, 15 guys on the team that can really play basketball, can impact a win. We were talking about it the other day that pretty much up and down the roster, anybody on our team can give you 20 in a night. That’s very unique to have on the team.
“Sometimes there is a little bit of impatience that comes with that. But when we’re going, we’re really going, it’s finding the balance of being able to be mentally stable and understand it’s not always going to be your night. Some nights, it’s other people.”
▪ Wade reiterated plans to retire at season’s end but said several NBA players have asked him why he doesn’t keep playing.
“A lot of the guys are like, ‘Man, you got two years; you got three years.’ And I appreciate it,” he said. “I’m thankful that they say that because I always wanted to walk away from this game with my head up high. I feel like if I have a successful season, if my team has a successful season, I could walk away just feeling good about how I ended my career.”
▪ Wade was amused when informed that TNT’s studio announcers tried to come up with new nicknames for him during Thursday’s postgame show. Charles Barkley suggested “Geritol Jesus,” referring to the vitamin supplement.
“Got to give it to him, that’s funny,” Wade said.
“Absorbine Junior Wade” was also mentioned, referring to a pain relief product. And ESPN’s Michael Wilbon texted Barkley with “Flashback,” a play off his former nickname, “Flash.”