When it was announced on Wednesday that LeBron James would miss the Miami Heat’s road game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Downtown LA, joining Anthony Davis and Lonnie Walker in the injury list, what was supposed to be an instantaneous sigh of relief was instead a creeping horror of “uh-oh, here we go again.”
A few in California thought this had the potential to be a blowout. Those who’ve followed the Heat knew better: this had “trap game” written all over it. And how fitting it would be on ESPN.
True enough, the Heat squandered another contest they should have won hours later, 112-109.
There’s no other way around it – the way they played was embarrassing, losing to an opponent they had superior talent against and, frankly, should have defeated with ease.
But was it surprising? Abso-freaking-lutely not. That’s the 2022-2023 Miami Heat for you, a shell of the inspiring squad with an “us-against-the-world” spirit they played with constantly just last season on the way to a memorable playoff run which nearly ended in glory.
This current batch of Heatles has been lackluster, unpredictable, and uninspiring. Although their recent play has been better, with nearly half the regular season done, their 20-19 record is a microcosm for who they are: a competitive team that can beat anybody but can lose to any opponent as well.
The belief they would be better than the record showed was benefit of the doubt given recent history, but that has now run its course.
As head coach Erik Spoelstra described this latest performance which left him angry: rather that establishing its own identity with intention in their execution, Miami settled for sparring with their adversaries who wound up hitting them with one too many jabs at the end of the contest, aided by their own ineptitude.
And that’s not going to be good enough to catapult them back to the same level of contention they were at last season. Far from it.
If this is the roster Miami will ride with the rest of the way – and it’s clear they need to figure out weak points through moves before the trade deadline – then they might just be a play-in team that’s not cohesive enough to compete against a stronger Eastern Conference with multiple titans jockeying for homecourt positions that continue to fall far away from the Heat’s reach with each passing week.
Miami’s point of attack defense against the Lakers was like a buffet spread on Thanksgiving, with Dennis Schroder, Russell Westbrook, and Thomas Bryant happy enough to attack it like a couple of college kids with the munchies after smoking a nice, thick blunt.
Bam Adebayo was sensational once again with a third straight outing scoring at least 30 points, but even his brilliance on the defensive end couldn’t cover up for the constant penetration by the Lakers and Miami’s lack of interior size which allowed Bryant to feast on second-chance opportunities.
Jimmy Butler was his usual superb self, but the rest of the team was underwhelming.
Given their status as one of the league leaders in “clutch” games this season, there are times when the Heat look like a team that’s confident they can close a contest out in the final minutes. In a packed Crypto.com Arena, they didn’t perform the necessary actions on both sides of the floor to validate that.
Victor Oladipo, known as a stout defender, was beaten off the dribble repeatedly in the second half and committed a harmful foul on Schroder while he was shooting a triple which provided the Lakers a cushion down the stretch of the contest. While his offense has come along as of late, his jumpshot still remains a work in progress.
Kyle Lowry’s recent performances look problematic given the cut of the team’s cap that goes to his contract. He is no longer the reliable perimeter defender he once was and doesn’t impact the game enough on the other end anymore to make up for that discrepancy. You can get game-managers at lower cost.
Tyler Herro found himself in the type of dilemma he will have to thrive against in the postseason if he’s to become the upper-echelon NBA star he desires to be. Schroder pressed him for most of the game and made every little thing he likes to do hard to accomplish: bringing the ball down the court, receiving passes off handoffs, launching for jumpers, and running pick-and-roll.
On defense, he still remains the go-to target of the opposition’s best attack threats. While Herro has grown as a better defender this season, other teams still feel comfortable attacking him repeatedly and in succession with successful results.
Max Strus is no longer a reliable threat from outside. Dewayne Dedmon, in his return, made a case for no longer getting rotation minutes as Orlando Robinson continues to improve. Gabe Vincent continues to have his own consistency issues. Caleb Martin’s full capabilities, it feels like, aren’t being used at the most optimal levels due to how this team is constructed.
Overall Miami has still won 8 of its last 12 games, so there are positive signs to work with. But we’ve also seen this same play since October: every time the Heat take a step forward, they take a step back.
Is it time to finally accept them for who they really are? Perhaps.
With a gauntlet of a schedule over the next 30 days, we’re going to learn more about this team. But given nights like Wednesday against the Lakers, how much can they really be trusted?