Miami Heat feeling a chill

Miami's Dwyane Wade got into a verbal altercation with head coach Erik Spoelstra during Game 3...

Miami's Dwyane Wade got into a verbal altercation with head coach Erik Spoelstra during Game 3 against the Indiana Pacers.

Frank Zicarelli, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:35 PM ET

To say the heat is on the Heat would be to state the obvious at a time when it’s so painfully obvious why Miami finds itself in its current predicament.

If Miami can’t summon the necessary mental toughness and somehow extract more from a flawed bench, then the consequences of losing to Indiana so soon in the post-season will be deep and pronounced.

No one, in the event of a playoff flameout no one had envisioned, will be spared, beginning with head coach Erik Spoelstra, whose altercation during a second-half timeout with Dwyane Wade in Thursday’s Game 3 will resonate well into this off-season. It’ll turn to chief architect Pat Riley, whom many expect will address his beleaguered team before Sunday’s crucial Game 4, all the way down to every player.

In the wake of its 94-75 loss, a setback that put Miami in a 2-1 hole, the Heat decided to cancel a scheduled Friday practice, thus insulating the players from the scrutiny, at least for one day.

Perhaps the years of carrying his team on his back have finally caught up with Wade — a complete non-factor in Game 3 — whose body is eroding and whose body language speaks to a beaten man.

Everyone knew Chris Bosh’s injury absence would be felt, but no one knew just how much the one-time face of the Raptors meant when Roy Hibbert is allowed to turn into Wilt Chamberlain.

LeBron James, with so few bigs available, is asked to start at power forward and defend David West.

In stretches, James is so good and so athletically gifted that he can guard four positions, but when extended a price is paid and it gets reflected in missed shots and an inability to get to the free-throw line.

It’s all-out panic mode with the Heat, a team it believed had learned from last spring’s loss to Dallas in the NBA final, a team with nowhere to turn but inward.

When the predictable self-analysis is completed, Miami may not like what it sees and if the end arrives as soon as next week, then expect a makeover that will leave no one exempt.

From coaching to execution, rotations, commitment, poise and finish, nothing has gone right for a Heat team that has now lost two in a row.

More importantly, and more damning, Miami has lost its way.

As bad as it looks going into Sunday’s do-or-die tip, momentum is so fleeting in the post-season that Miami can turn the series around.

But so far, there are no signs suggesting a turnaround is possible.

“The guys who have been in the playoffs know this is a series,” said Shane Battier, who went 0-for-7 from the field in Game 3, including six shots from beyond the three-point arc. “We can play better, that’s just a matter of fact.

“We know if we bring a better effort in Game 4 we have to chance to even the series. It’s all about perspective, but we know we have to play better than this (Thursday’s 94-75 loss).”

When Mario Chalmers, who is a decent player, emerges as Miami’s best player, you know the Heat is in trouble.

You know Miami is in dire straits when three-point shots aren’t dropping — the team has made five of 42 heaves in the serie. When Indiana is able to outscore Miami by a combined 54-26 in the third quarters of Games 2 and 3, when James and Wade combine for nine turnovers and five free throw attempts, which is precisely what unfolded in Game 3.

In a nutshell, Miami is on the ropes.

If the Pacers can somehow maintain their level of play and composure, they have a chance to knock out a Heat team no one thought would look so bad, so vulnerable and so prone in coming apart at the seams.

“That happens,” Spoelstra said of the blowup with Wade. “Anybody who has been a part of a team, who has been a coach or been a player, you have no idea how often things like that happen.

“That was during an emotional part of the game. We were getting our butt kicked.

“Dwyane and I have been together a long time. That type of fire is good. That’s the least of our concerns.”

Maybe it’s blessing that Miami has a few days to get ready for Sunday, a day that figures to be the most important game this current Heat team has played.

BIG BUCKS AWAIT BIG DOG

As Roy Hibbert’s stock keeps rising, his projected price tag continues to soar.

A restricted free agent this summer, the Pacers aren’t likely to lose the big fella, but Hibbert is going to demand a big contract because some team will make a lucrative offer.

For now, Hibbert continues to say all the right things when so much has gone right for Indiana, which takes a 2-1 series lead over Miami into Sunday’s critical Game 4.

“I love Indiana,” Hibbert said when free agency was broached. “They took a chance on me when they traded Jermaine O’Neal (to Toronto) and a couple of other guys to get me with the 17th pick. This is the place that I feel I’m very loyal to.”

Loyalty has a way of being challenged when money gets involved, but as long as Hibbert continues to play at this level, he’ll have nothing to worry about.

In Indiana’s Game 3 win over the Heat, Hibbert had 19 points, pulled down 18 boards and recorded five blocks in helping the home side out-rebound the visitors 52-36.

“That’s why he’s an all-star this year,” Indiana native and Pacers guard George Hill said of Hibbert. “He’s a big part of this team, not just scoring but defensively.

“His favourite saying is: ‘Send them (opposing players) to Big Dog.’ When we’re in trouble, he’s our bail-out.”


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