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By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor - Archive - Email
Step away from the panic button
LeBron James The Miami Heat have lost seven of their last 11, the gall of them.
Philadelphia, PA ( - Oh, what a horrible couple of weeks it has been for lovers of the NBA, the dying breed that we have become.

Look at what's become of the Miami Heat, once the most-hated of villains, now respected for their greatness. They've lost seven of their last 11, the gall of them.

It's hard to reconcile this incarnation of the Heat with losing ways, especially at this point on the calendar. Remember, 12 months ago, Miami was just three days from ending a 27-game winning streak.

Why is this happening to the Heat?

First, let's examine the psychological. Miami has made the NBA Finals three straight years and won the title the last two. It's impossible for human beings to keep an intensity level that high for such a sustained period.

It's happened to almost every single dynasty-level squad, including the Shaq- Kobe Lakers and Michael Jordan's Bulls.

Sure, the Heat's defense has gone down a bit, allowing 103 points per game during a loss in this recent slide, and the offense is down to 97.6 points over these 11 games. The ball movement, which is the single-most differentiating aspect of greatness that separates Miami from all others, has been lacking a bit lately as well.

These are remedies that can be fixed on the court. Head coach Erik Spoelstra has showed he's a man not afraid to tinker. Remember during the last Finals, he sat Shane Battier and Chris Anderson for entire games.

Getting past the mind hurdle, that's far trickier. Their current play is wearing on the Heat.

"It's too many excuses. Everything is an excuse. We do something wrong, it's an excuse. We don't get a stop, it's an excuse. We turn the ball over, it's an excuse," LeBron James said. "What we're doing right now ain't good enough."

"We're not accustomed to this type of play, these type of standards, particularly on the defensive end and if we want to change, we have to look inward," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

Or, the succinct version: "We suck," Chris Bosh said.

That statement by Spoelstra is an interesting one. As much as the Heat may want to talk about the ups and downs of a season, or the adversity they've faced, they really haven't endured a truly bad stretch.

They aren't now, either. A 4-7 record over 11 games is not exactly a cause for alarm, but the Heat haven't faced too many hard times in their four years together. This may pass for some genuine trouble. Maybe, they aren't equipped to handle too much adversity.

The timing is troubling as well. The postseason begins in about three weeks, so any woes have precious little time to be remedied, but it would behoove the Heat to sit back, collect themselves, realize the world isn't caving in on them. They are a team so talented, and so lucky, that they haven't had to persevere through many muddy waters.

Truthfully, the problem is mostly Miami's, but the Indiana Pacers haven't lit the world up by their play.

Indiana is just 5-6 over its last 11 and defense has really been a problem for them. It's easy to blame defense for a team that has ranked atop almost every conceivable list all season. Any small blip like the one that has them allowing 95 ppg as opposed to 91.9 could look significant, but the Pacers' problem is psychological, too.

They are the hunted now. They've been the scrappy group that no one wanted to face in the playoffs. The Pacers played defense and were huge and mean, a true challenge to any of the big boys like Miami or Boston.

Now, the Pacers have played the entire season as the best team in the league. Going wire-to-wire like that opens Indiana to the best the opposition gives every single night.

The pressure is much more significant. Last season, the Pacers were the group that could stun the Heat and make an improbable run to the Finals. This season, the Pacers have been a championship contender all season. If Indiana fails to make the Finals, it's a lost season. That's the price that comes with a championship pedigree. It's unfair and brutal, but what you get with high, yet realistic expectations.

Both teams are going to be fine for several reasons.

First of all, despite how well the likes of the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls have played, there's still no legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference. It's going to be Indiana versus Miami in the conference finals.

Secondly, these groups are both led by veterans who won't let their squads deteriorate into real peril. James, Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Battier won't let it happen to the Heat, and David West, Paul George, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and Luis Scola are too tough to see it happen in Indiana.

This happens through the course of an NBA season. Neither team is historically great like Jordan's Bulls or the Showtime Lakers or Red Auerbach's Celtics. They aren't so good that they are immune to the swoon.

What have Pacers fans or Heat fans had to worry about this season? Nothing at all, so one rough stretch makes everyone reach for the panic button.

To all of those fans, it could be worse. You could be a Philadelphia 76ers fan.