As the Miami Heat headed into their three-day Christmas break they were the human embodiment of those Southwest commercials. They needed to get away.
After yet another close loss, this time 91-87 Friday to the New Orleans Pelicans, coach Erik Spoelstra said an exhale is needed, with the Heat not to resume their schedule until Tuesday against Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“Sometimes,” Spoelstra said, “you just have to go through pain, you have to go through the execution, you have to go through the emotion, you have to go through the pressure.
“All those things, we’re going through it. And it seems like we have had more close games than anybody else in the league. And eventually you get better from that.”
At 10-21, all but 10 of the Heat’s games have been decided by single digits. By contrast, among fellow teams with losing records, the Detroit Pistons have played 24 games decided by double digits, the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks 18 apiece, the Brooklyn Nets 15 and the Phoenix Suns 14.
“I don’t think I can give a State of the Union evaluation of our team,” Spoelstra said amid the rawness of so many closes losses. “We’re going to be prepare, get ready for the next game. There’s a lot of good things. We all just probably need to step back right now.”
While closes losses can tear a team apart, Spoelstra said that has not been the case.
“Our guys really care,” he said. “That’s the thing I love about this group, it really matters to them. And it’s disappointing when we’re not able to get the result that we wanted.
“So the fabric of this group is we’ll come, we’ll continue to try to get better, and get ready for OKC after we enjoy a holiday with our family.”
Point guard Goran Dragic said what has hurt the Heat in the close losses has been a lack of focus at critical junctures, citing Friday as an example, when the Heat blew a 14-point late-third-quarter lead.
“When the game is on the line,” he said, “we cannot play defense soft or, let’s say we don’t execute the offense well, let’s say three guys are running hard, two guys are walking, that is really tough to execute. Especially when the defense is aggressive, we need to be back aggressive. All the cuts need to be fast. All the screens need to be solid.”
Dragic, though, said it is not at a stage for a need for team meetings, that the players have been able to be open and candid about their expectations of teammates.
“I feel like we don’t have that problem,” he said. “We already have had, I would not say explosions, but nobody’s afraid to tell somebody, ‘Hey, you need to do your job. You need to do this, this, this.’ We already know what we need to do.
“Everybody on this team knows what he needs to do and what the team is expecting from that. I don’t see that as a problem. If everybody was quiet, then I think that would be a problem.”
Dragic said the Heat allowed uneven offense to turn into lacking defense against the Pelicans
“That lead went down pretty quickly,” he said. “We needed to really be more mature. We cannot make so many mistakes on defense. Even if the offense is not going in the right direction, we still need to play defense and try to make it harder.”
Friday’s victory was particularly significant to Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday, who sparked New Orleans with 22 points, including seven in the fourth quarter. Holiday entered Friday’s game 0-18 over his career against the Heat.