- Dave George Palm Beach Post Sports Columnist
The NBA All-Star break is when Chris Bosh was lost for the season with blood clots, and it happened two years in a row.
Well, the break is back and Erik Spoelstra finds himself rebooting the Miami Heat’s entire approach again, this time with the addition of Dwyane Wade.
It’s not going well. Wednesday’s huge blown lead at Philadelphia makes it seven losses in the past eight games for the 30-28 Heat. Wade was projected to be the closer who could stop this slide, of course, but a pair of missed 3-pointers at the end of the 76ers game displayed his limitations at the age of 36.
A couple of years ago, he would have been driving the lane and drawing fouls all through the fourth quarter. Wade never got to the line in Wednesday’s final period, however, and the crucial trio of Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson and Hassan Whiteside didn’t even squeeze off a shot.
This is scary stuff, with Miami holding on for dear life to the eighth and final playoff position in the East, but Spoelsta has figured this kind of thing out before and maybe he will again.
Use the 2015-16 Heat season as a template. Miami was in slightly better shape at the All-Star break, checking in at No. 5 in the East, but the gap between there and the No. 9 spot, first one out of the playoffs, was only 2 ½ games.
That’s when Bosh left the lineup, never to return. He was the Heat’s leading scorer (19.1 points per game), No. 2 rebounder (7.4 per game) and busiest player overall (33.5 minutes per game). That’s a lot to lose.
Somehow, though, Miami went 19-10 without him the rest of the regular season to secure the No. 3 seed and kept right on winning until a second-round playoff series with Toronto that went the full seven-game distance and featured three overtime periods.
Nobody knew that Wade was soon to leave Miami as a free agent. Nobody, to be honest, knew what to think, except that the famous Heat culture installed by Pat Riley and nurtured by Spoelstra is both courageous and contagious.
There’s no path back to that moment, of course. Wade can’t play 30 minutes a night and score 19 points on average, as he did in his 13th and final full Heat season before breaking with Riley and the franchise. Fact is, he’s only reached as high as 19 points on four occasions this season in 46 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers and three with the Heat.
So Spoelstra will spend the break fiddling with lineup ideas, and trust that the eventual return of Kelly Olynyk will help in both team defense and rebounding. This scramble mode is nothing new for a team so dependent on versatility and chemistry over true star power.
Remember, Miami was hovering around .500 when Dion Waiters was lost for the season in late December with a chronically crummy ankle. All these weeks later, Miami is still hovering around .500, still looking for a spark.
“We’re still in the playoffs,” Dragic said of the fight to maintain a top-eight seed, “so we need to look (at the) positive, because we can make a run.”
Right now, the focus should be on making a stand.
Miami led Philadelphia by 24 points in the third quarter Wednesday and got outscored 60-34 after that. The Sixers did not have All-Star Joel Embiid, which makes it worse.
Just as startling was the 12-point lead Miami blew in the final minutes against Sacramento last month. The Kings don’t have anybody.
“Each one of these games has been like a playoff game,” Spoelstra said. “That has an effect on your emotions.”
No doubt, but all those other teams are feeling the same drain. Miami has a knack for mixing up a new personnel potion, for handling sudden change.
It happens so often around the All-Star break that anything else, including the often illogical optimism, would feel weird.