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The Heat have won 9 of their last 13. Why doesn’t it feel better?

The Heat have won games with difficulty they should’ve won with comfort.

Miami Heat v Phoenix Suns Photo by Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images

The Miami Heat closed out their West Coast five-game road trip with a 104-96 win over the Phoenix Suns. By some measures, going 3-2 on a road trip is respectable — especially considering when one of those games came in Denver, where Miami has historically struggled.

Victor Oladipo continued to improve offensively. He scored 26 points, including four 3-pointers last night against the Suns.

Zoom out further, and the Heat have won nine of their last 13 games. For a team that got off to a 2-5 start, this recent showing qualifies as trending in the right direction. But why doesn’t it feel that way?

Of course, Heat fans could argue that Miami should’ve gone 5-0 on this road trip, or they should’ve gone 11-2 instead of 9-4. Miami held an eight-point lead with nine minutes left at the Denver Nuggets. And the loss to a Los Angeles Lakers team without LeBron James or Anthony Davis was inexcusable.

More broadly, the Heat have won games with difficulty they should’ve won with comfort. They’ve lost games they should’ve won. And after every moment of feeling like the team has turned a corner — remember the Dec. 2 road overtime win over the Boston Celtics? — the Heat drop a winnable game. Erik Spoelstra noted that trend after the loss to the Lakers.

Miami can’t afford these “two steps forward, one step back” moments for the rest of the season. The Heat have played 40 games; the “it’s a long season” excuse is out the window. And avoiding the play-in tournament is a cold comfort for a team with championship ambitions.

After all, how did the 2020-21 season turn out, when Miami shook off a slow start and secured the six seed, only to get swept out of the first round?

The Heat still need to consistently play at a high level. They don’t have the talent to start games with a lackadaisical attitude and turn it on. But the front office needs midseason trades and signings, which they didn’t do over the summer.