The constant climb remains an uphill battle for the Miami Heat, this time the latest setback a Monday night road loss to a Memphis Grizzlies team resting four of their five starters.
Still yet to get above .500 this season, it brought the Heat back to FTX Arena for Tuesday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons knowing that .500 won’t happen at least until week’s end.
“You have an opportunity to be .500 and go home and try to get over .500,” center Bam Adebayo said. “Now we’re still digging out this hole.”
Even with victories over the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics, it turned into nothing more than a 2-2 trip after the lifeless effort at the end of the eight-day run.
“Obviously, the last game on a long road trip is never easy,” guard Tyler Herro said, as the Heat turned their attention to Tuesday’s start of a three-game homestand that includes a Thursday game against the Los Angeles Clippers and a Saturday game against the San Antonio Spurs.
“As professionals, we got to come in here and do our job no matter what.”
That did not happen in Memphis, even with the Heat as close to whole as they have been all season.
“Another hiccup,” forward Jimmy Butler said, “I don’t know what to call it.”
The last time the Heat faced similar adversity, after an 0-4 trip, they returned to sweep consecutive home games against the Washington Wizards as part of the five-game home winning streak they took into Tuesday night.
“Ain’t nobody handing us no dubs,” Butler said, “ain’t nobody feeling sorry for us. So we got to do what we’re supposed to do, and we’re at home. We need it.”
Because after this three-game homestand, there is another grueling trip, a weeklong run that includes games against the youth and vitality of Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, and then, in Mexico City, a rematch against the San Antonio Spurs.
Butler said the Heat have to move beyond concern about venues, entering Tuesday’s play in a three-way tie for ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
“I don’t like to lose any game,” he said. “So all of them feel the same to me. Home, away, no matter our opponent. I don’t like to lose any game.”
For all of the Heat’s struggles this season, there have been few bad losses since falling at home on opening night to the shorthanded Chicago Bulls, who since have tumbled in the standings. Monday was a bad loss, with the Grizzlies sitting Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, among others, on the second night of their back-to-back.
“I would say this is probably the first game of the year where it just looked like we were flat, in mud for a large portion of the game,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of the loss in Memphis. “And even when we were able to get some footing, we just weren’t able to take control.”
Monday marked the first time since Oct. 29-Nov. 1 that the Heat played consecutive games with their primary starting lineup of Adebayo, Butler, Herro, Kyle Lowry and Caleb Martin.
“We have some guys that are still on the mend and getting healthy,” Spoelstra said.
Still, the only players not available for the Heat on Monday night were Victor Oladipo and center Omer Yurtseven, players sidelined since the preseason, with Yurtseven now recovering from ankle surgery.
To Spoelstra, even in early December, nearly a third into the season, it remains somewhat of a team coming together.
“We’re a team that relies on doing things in sync,” he said, “and there’s got to be some kind of synchronicity to how we play, to be able to get our attacks and everything.”
So even now, cohesion remains a work in progress.
“Yeah. I mean, that’s the point of an 82-game season, that’s the point of training camp, that’s the point of practice,” Adebayo said, “to build those habits and keep building that connection between all of us.”