The Miami Heat first had to clear their minds. Then they cleaned up their game.
That has Erik Spoelstra’s team in a far better place heading into Sunday’s game against the Toronto Raptors at AmericanAirlines Arena.
In the wake of Wednesday’s troubling 105-97 road loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, when they blew an 18-point lead, the Heat went to school in Philadelphia, first with an intense team meeting Thursday at the Philadelphia 76ers’ training facility at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, then a spirited shootaround Friday at Temple University.
The upshot was Friday’s 99-79 victory over the 76ers.
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Before walking the walk, the Heat talked the talk at the Thursday meeting.
“It was no-holds barred, no tongues being held,” forward LeBron James said. “If we’re going to be held to a championship standard, we need to go out and play like it. No one can take things personal if someone says something to him. We’ve got to take constructive criticism.”
And take it to heart, which they did against the 76ers, in making it nine victories in their last 11 games.
“Everybody was pure about it,” Spoelstra said of the raw discussion. “Everybody’s intention was to find a way to get better and correct some of the things that ailed us against Milwaukee. It was a long day and we improved.”
To guard Dwyane Wade, it was necessary discourse.
“Every team, especially good teams, you have to sit and reflect and see what you can do better. It was a wake up day for us,” he said of the Thursday session. “We came in and did what we talked about. The biggest thing was the lines of communication opening between players and coaches. It should be that way, but sometimes you get lost and there’s a separation.”
Against the 76ers, the Heat found their way, Their nine turnovers were their fewest since committing eight against the Washington Wizards on Feb. 25, 2011 and their fewest in a road game since committing seven at the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 12, 2011. In fact, in their last five victories, the Heat have averaged just 11.6 turnovers per game.
It was an efficient effort across the board, with season lows in personal fouls (12) and points allowed (79). The 79 points were the fewest since allowing 79 to the Raptors in the 2010-11 regular-season finale in Toronto.
“Probably the best game from start to finish, as far as playing hard and communicating on both ends, that we had all season,” James said.
It was the payoff from what had played out over the previous 48 hours.
“That is the kind of team we should be,” Wade said. “Not saying we’re always going to play that way, not saying we’re always going to make the right decisions. But we should always been in control of [our] own destiny.” It allowed the Heat to take Milwaukee more as a blip than any sign of significant slippage.
The Heat never trailed during Friday’s final two periods, the fifth time in the past 10 games they have not trailed in second half. It also marked the eighth time in the past 11 games the Heat have not trailed in the fourth quarter.
James’ 15th point Friday in his 19-point effort was the 18,000th of his career . . . Wade’s 19th minute at Philadelphia was the 21,000th of his career . . . The lone blocked shot Friday by center Joel Anthony was the 350th of his career . . Mario Chalmers’ six defensive and seven total rebounds each tied career highs for the Heat point guard . . .
James’ 11 defensive rebounds against the 76ers tied James’ Heat high, accomplished once last season and matched earlier this season against the Clippers . . . Norris Cole’s three 3-pointers against the 76ers gave the rookie reserve point guard his first game with more than one conversion . . .
When James on Friday was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for January, it was the 14th time a Heat player has earned the distinction in the franchise’s 24 seasons and James’ fourth such designation with the Heat. The Heat finished January with 12 victories, surpassing the team’s previous January best of 10.
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