x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Miami Heat a no-show on the road

Miami may be terrors at home, but on the road their opponents are finding them to be not so hot.

Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, left, keeps the ball from Miami Heat's Chris Bosh.
Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, left, keeps the ball from Miami Heat's Chris Bosh.

A year after they were widely dismissed as presumptuous poseurs, the Miami Heat this season were widely considered presumptive champions - the biggest and baddest team in the solar system.

Last season they collected three of the NBA's premier players: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They reached the NBA 2011 final and probably should have won it.

When the Dallas Mavericks outplayed them, to the delight of nearly every basketball fan outside of Miami, they responded by improving their supporting cast.

In the second season of the James-Wade-Bosh era, they clearly were the team to beat - until they began losing regularly on the road.

The Heat have lost three of their past five and seven of 10 on the road. Several of those defeats came against teams considered prime challengers - by 10 to the Los Angeles Lakers, by 16 to the Oklahoma City Thunder and by 19 to the Boston Celtics.

That latest loss came on Sunday, when they appeared disinterested.

"This game was unacceptable; we're not happy about it," said Erik Spoelstra, the Heat coach.

Their tempo has slowed, they do not defend with passion and they now have to answer awkward questions about how a team with three of the league's best 20 players can be held to 72 points, as they were by the Celtics.

Apologists suggest the Heat are catching their breath ahead of the play-offs and plan to turn it up in the post-season.

At home, all is well. They are a league-best 21-2 and have won 15 consecutive games. On the road, however, they are nothing special at 16-12.

Their vulnerability away from Miami is giving hope to challengers around the league. That chink in their armour must look gaping to the Chicago Bulls, who beat them on March 14 minus Derrick Rose, the reigning league MVP.

The Heat say they have to no concerns. "We'll figure it out," Wade said. "That's what a good team is supposed to do."

They have less than four weeks to do that figuring. Included are home and away games with the Bulls and the surging Celtics.

"It's definitely a string of issues on the road," James said. "We've got to be more mentally tough."

The Heat trail the Bulls by three-and-a-half games for best record in the Eastern Conference. Given their Jekyll and Hyde routine, at home and on the road, they clearly could help themselves by overtaking Chicago to secure home-court advantage in the East, including in the expected conference final with the Bulls.

That, however, would require a more determined effort than the Heat have shown in the past month. "We're going to figure it out," Bosh said. "We have to stay positive."



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