Off the back of yet another lackluster loss, it's now apparent this glitch that's been hanging around the Miami Heat while en route to a promising three-peat has escalated to the "problem" variety.
Last night's 101-96 loss in Boston cemented that things aren't a hundred percent in camp Heat. After the worst run in franchise history since the coming together of the Big 3, Miami now look like a shadow of their former selves. They've played scrappy offense, dismal defense and lost games to teams that have no place in the calendar come May and June.
Coach Erik Spoelstra's recent tinkering with the lineups in order to figure out what combinations work best, for the moment, don't look to be doing Miami any favors. But then again, this is where we are reminded he's a two-time championship coach, one who's proven to know a thing or two about basketball. To some extent, Spoelstra is somewhat blessed; he has before him a dream roster that's swamped in talent and riddled with Finals experience.
While it's hardly the most pressing thought upon looking at what Spoelstra has to deal with, the path which lies before him is somewhat of a burden. That squad. These All Stars. That MVP. Jesus Shuttlesworth. Everything a coach could ask for, only limited starting spots. Don't mess it up.
It's the San Antonio Spurs now who exceed all; their recent 11th win in a row sees them at the top of the leader board, last year's Finals runner-ups playing with a chemistry the Heat and Pacers could only wish to replicate right now. This season, Gregg Popovich has repeated the formula of his team that made the Finals. Tim Duncan, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Tiago Spiltter have been the go-to rotation for the Spurs, a combo already used in 25 games this season alone (31 last year).
In contrast to Miami's winning method last season which consisted of LeBron James, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh who were used 47 times and much throughout the 27-game winning streak and playoffs, has since been shuffled with the inclusion of Shane Battier over Haslem. Many fans prefer to think of this as tampering and aren't too pleased with the continued usage of Battier, the most notable being his shooting percentage is down by 9.5% compared to last season's 43%. Now while this doesn't exactly scream for Haslem to be thrown in or even Michael Beasley, you have to question why Spoelstra insists on not giving the former lineup another shot.
Although Haslem's efforts against the Celtics had everyone screaming for more game-time, (14 points, 3 assists), one good game does not make a starter. However it still leads to wondering if we will see Haslem out on the court Friday against the West's seventh seeded Memphis Grizzlies.
Or, could perhaps Spoelstra throw another monkey wrench into the works and test out Justin Hamilton? While you'd assume if Spoelstra was ever going to send Hamilton out onto the floor it would be against the New Orleans Pelicans the following away game, but who knows? The clock is running and the coach needs his lineup answers sooner than later.
Greg Oden who proved his worth against the Cavaliers with 6 points and his longest stint of 14 minutes looks likely to be in the starting mix against the Grizzlies after having sat out last night. Again, while he did look at home in Cleveland, it was after all against a below-the-par team.
With a little over four weeks from from the playoffs could this late surge of tinkering be the beginning to the end for Miami? With all the adversity they've been through and the ability to switch on when it's needed, you can argue no -- but has the damage already been done? Has the inconsistency, god forbid, already infiltrated the team's confidence to the point of no return this season?
Next week onwards one would expect (or hope) Spoelstra will begin to roll out a consistent starting pack just in time to get back the offensive chemistry that's depleted the team of late. We know what this team is capable of, we've seen it time and time again, amazed at all those fourth quarter reprises. Still, in the back of some minds is the knowledge that with every championship team there comes a time where the reign slowly comes to an end.
With only a month to resolve the current drawback, let's hope this isn't the case.