By IRA WINDERMAN
MIAMI — Three chances to win or tie at the end of regulation against the Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets.
Three failures, only once even getting the ball to the rim, and then as much out of desperation as in rhythm.
For the Miami Heat, three possessions define the slump that has them with four losses in their past five games, as they look ahead to today’s game against the Denver Nuggets at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“We have not been sharp down the stretch, which historically been a huge strength for this team,” forward Shane Battier said. “What goes into that? I don’t know, but I think a focus and a better determination of what we’re trying to really do at the ends of games is a good place to start.”
A week ago Tuesday, at the start of the slide, the best the Heat could manage at the buzzer of a 106-103 loss in Houston was a 3-point heave by LeBron James over the outstretched arms of Rockets center Dwight Howard, an attempt that wasn’t particularly close.
Then, in Sunday’s loss in Chicago, James was stripped of the ball on a drive by Jimmy Butler on the Heat’s final possession of regulation, with a 95-88 loss in overtime resulting.
And Wednesday, with the Heat down by the final 96-95 margin, Chris Bosh’s pass from the left sideline to a cutting James in a lane was deflected away by Shaun Livingston just before the final buzzer.
“We do need to execute down the stretch,” Wade said. “We need to be able to at least get the ball up the rim, to get the shot. So we’re going to have to work on that a little bit. We’ve got something to work on.”
Bosh said better in March than in late April or in May or June.
“To get out the kinks, you have to have some failures,” he said. “I think that’s important. Right now, I think we know what we have to get better at, and that’s pretty apparent over the past week. So, we don’t have to kid ourselves. We don’t have to make anything up. We see what the problem is. The coaching staff and the players, we’re going to have to collaborate and fix it.”
To Bosh, it is the plays leading to the decisive plays that could ease the all-or-nothing pressure.
“If anything,” he said, “we should execute down the stretch. I don’t think we’re getting the best shots possible. We took some contested, turnaround jumpers. We’re not getting our guys in their situations.”
Then there are the end-game situations themselves. Wednesday’s final sequence began off a missed jumper by Nets guard Deron Williams with 8.5 seconds left. Wade then grabbed the rebound, but began dribbling the ball in the backcourt before calling timeout with 3.5 seconds to play.
Because Wade had advanced the ball, the only way the Heat could get the ball moved to midcourt was to call yet another timeout, their last of the game, leaving Bosh with no recourse but to get the ball inbounded with those 3.5 seconds left.
Wade said he called his timeout when he felt there wasn’t ample time to successfully attack the length of the court.
Against the Rockets, the Heat played in transition for their final shot. Timeouts were called before the key possessions against the Bulls and Nets.
“We typically like to go in those situations, yeah,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And it was right about a second or two away from really having an opportunity to go. But we’ve done that before. We had a couple of timeouts, so you could still advance it. We had plenty of time to get a good shot.
“Actually, I would have liked to have seen what would happen if we didn’t call time.”
James made his final shot from the field Wednesday. The problem was his last shot of the game came with 30.3 seconds left in the third quarter, going the entire final period without an attempt from the field, his lone fourth-quarter points on a pair of free throws with 5:30 to play.
“I just wasn’t in the situation to get one,” he said. “The way we ran the offense, D-Wade handled the ball a lot and I was more of a facilitator. It is just how the game was played.”
Said Spoelstra: “Some of it was him being on the bench for the first four minutes (of the fourth quarter, checking back in with 7:17 to play) and then the ball just went to different places going down the stretch. We put it in Dwyane’s hands. It would touch LeBron, but he was making the right plays. Sometimes, that’s just the way the ball goes.”