Miami Heat's stars have been eclipsed through season's first month

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 28, 2010; 12:08 AM

IN MIAMI It's no time for panicked team meetings, Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday morning, but he admitted a sense of urgency would be nice. Nearly a month into an NBA season many expected would be the Heat's playground, the Heat has been booed on its home court, defeated routinely and resoundingly, and picked apart nationwide.

Which might explain why a handful of Miami players, including team captain Dwyane Wade, dutifully showed up to American Airlines Arena on Thursday for an informal shoot-around despite getting the day off for Thanksgiving.

Wade declined to name the players who attended but said their voluntary participation provided a welcome mental counter to what had been a demoralizing three-game losing streak, which ended Friday night with a 99-90 win over Philadelphia. The last thing the Heat needs, Wade said, is to panic.

"You start to panic and you start tensing up too much and not playing the game freely," Wade said.

"No question you get humbled. We never would have predicted we'd be 8-7."

Miami's frustration has been palpable. After signaling for a timeout during Miami's 16-point home loss to the Indiana Pacers on Monday, Wade hurled a baseball pass across the court in disgust that struck a surprised fan in the front row. Late in that game, three-time MVP LeBron James glared at the scoreboard with his hands on his hips.

Meantime, an increasingly anxious Spoelstra has summoned a host of phrases no one imagined would ever apply to his talent-rich Heat squad. He said early in the week he didn't want to overreact, that it was time to put "the pieces back together."

"We have to be active participants right now," he said, "in our own rescue."

The Heat, which hosts the Wizards on Monday, has been alternately soaring and sinking, but doing far more of the latter than anyone expected when Heat President Pat Riley assembled what was figured to be the Team of the Decade this past summer, luring free agents James and forward Chris Bosh to join Wade in South Beach. Former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy predicted the Heat wouldn't lose two in a row all year, yet Miami achieved that twice in the season's first month, and players admit they still haven't gotten comfortable with each other.

Los Angeles Lakers Coach Phil Jackson speculated that Spoelstra's job could soon be in jeopardy. The Miami Herald declared the squad "A Royal Mess" in a headline this week.

"It's very challenging when you have nine new guys, guys trying to learn a system and guys trying to get acquainted on the basketball court," James said. "We haven't really had our full team yet. . . . It's been a struggle, because you want to be in full-go."

Indeed, some of Miami's difficulties can be attributed to a host of injuries, major and nagging, that have kept key pieces of the 2010-11 squad off the floor at various times - the latest being the loss last week of Udonis Haslem, Miami's leading rebounder, to an ankle injury. Even so, it's difficult to square a squad as talented as Miami's with the enormity of recent struggles.

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