MIAMI — This is when it’s interesting to watch and listen closely to coach Erik Spoelstra and his underachieving Miami Heat players.
This is a moment you might find something instructive, even useful, about not just their make-up but the actual concept of “Heat Culture,” as opposed to the trademarked term everyone applauds in the good times.
It’s fun to follow the Heat when they win, as they have better than any team in town for this sports generation. It’s just more revealing to watch successful franchises at a time like this, when their pained problems are accentuated and personal issues are irritated by the kind of losing streak none have experienced.
It’s up to seven straight losses now, the worst Heat run since 2008, a 15-win season that resulted in their last nosebleed-high lottery pick.
Worse, as often happens in dire times, this looks like a team that could keep losing. Six of their seven losses on this run are by at least nine points. They look lost on offense, lost on defense — like they all let go of the rope, to use one of their cultural terms.
“Right now this is about our house — we have got to get our structure right and live up the our standards that we set for ourselves,’’ Spoelstra said. “We’re not doing that (recently). We’re fully aware of that. But we have a group that’s very committed to getting back on the right track, as frustrating as that is for everybody.
“Everybody’s extremely frustrated, angry, despondent, a bunch of emotions that you’re naturally going to feel if you’re a competitor and we’re not winning games. We’re focusing on that stuff right now. It’s been a painful step or two backwards to get those positive steps forward, collectively. And we’ll get there. You know, I know I keep saying that, but I know our group.”
He brushed off a question about Tyler Herro’s game reduced to more 3-point shooting, saying, that’s it’s not, “on our list of priorities.” Nor was whether Terry Rozier got in a first on-court practice since being traded to the Heat last week.
“A collective resolve, for sure, that’ll handle some things,’’ Spoelstra said of what’s needed. “They know defensively, just overall in terms of that — that toughness, mental physical or emotional, competitive toughness. Those intangibles can protect you. The schematics are second, third, fourth, fifth or beyond.”
It’s a spot-on diagnosis of a Heat team that plays too often like its shoelaces aren’t pulled tight. Can it ever get to another gear? Does it miss the full effort of Max Strus and Gabe Vincent, who cashed in for big contracts last offseason?
It’s telling that Rozier said Spoelstra commended him for pushing the ball upcourt to start the offense with more than 20 seconds left on the 24-second shot clock.
“Just basically getting up the court and giving ourselves our list of options before the defense gets set,’’ Rozier said.
That’s not involving scheme or statistics. It’s fundamental smarts and effort. Surely it’s one simple detail that Spoelstra was talking about to improve a struggling offense by saying, “When we take care of other things, all of a sudden the basket gets a lot bigger.”
On your typical NBA team, a great player leads the way out of trouble. But who looks great right now? Regular-Season Jimmy Butler is doing Regular-Season Jimmy things. Herro can score, but not defend.
Center Bam Adebayo seems the only player with a touchstone to this franchise’s regular standards. He sees the larger problems starting on defense, where opponents are shooting a collective 50.1 percent overall and a scorching 45.6 percent on 3-pointers during this losing streak.
“We can score, but we’ve got to get stops,’’ Adebayo said. “That’s not communicating enough, not doing the little detailed things.”
The Heat play a good Sacramento team Wednesday night, then at a dismal Washington team before hosting the best-in-the-West Los Angeles Clippers. Surely there’s a win in there for a franchise used to winning.
“Sometimes this league can be so humbling,’’ Spoelstra said. “You have to embrace everything that comes with it, including we’ve had great moments, and sometimes you’ve going to have moments like this. We just have to figure this out.”
At this time last year, the Heat were trending toward a play-in playoff spot, just as they are again. Last year ended in the NBA Finals. No one was connecting dots to that again after Tuesday’s Heat practice. There was just the coach’s mantra of a team trying to connect to the franchise’s culture.
“We’ve got to figure this out,’’ Spoelstra said.