Miami's struggles grow on, off courtNov. 30, 2010
Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010. Dallas won 106-92.
By Tim Reynolds
MIAMI -- When it comes to the Miami Heat, it almost seems like there's no choice between loving 'em or hating 'em.
Most hate 'em.
Booing, sure, that's a given. Happens in every arena in the league, even sometimes their own. Hawkers of "Beat The Heat" T-shirts in Orlando were busy when Miami visited there last week. In Philadelphia, Dwyane Wade got jeered more loudly than ever, getting no love in the city where it's allegedly brotherly. And the only time LeBron James draws applause on the road is when something goes wrong.
Which, to the delight of many in the NBA, is happening far more often than anyone expected.
"I want them to lose all their games," Dallas owner Mark Cuban said.
Hey, they're coming close.
A team that expected magnificence is getting mediocrity instead -- a 9-8 record entering Monday's game against Washington. The Heat began the day in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of the New York Knicks.
If the Heat had that record in the West, they'd be barely hanging on to the final playoff spot.
And this week, James goes back to Cleveland for the first time as a visiting player. For as harshly as the Heat have been received until now, Thursday's trip to a city scorned by its longtime hero might prove downright venomous.
"If you lose, no one's going to be happy, nor should they be," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Well, actually, plenty of people are happy about it -- the rest of the NBA, for starters.
From the moment that James made his decision on July 8 to play for Miami, the Heat knew this was coming. They knew they would carry the biggest bulls-eye in the NBA, even though the Los Angeles Lakers are the defending champions and the Boston Celtics are the reigning kings of the Eastern Conference.
Taking hits from across the league, that's one thing.
Taking hits from one another, that's the latest issue.
James bumped Spoelstra during a time-out in Dallas on Saturday night, a shoulder-to-shoulder bump that may have been unintentional, may have been out of frustration, may have been intended to send a message.
James reached back instantly, almost as if making an apology, but no matter -- by the time that quarter was over, the play was already on YouTube and the Twitterverse was buzzing that the two-time NBA MVP just hit his coach.
"A perfect case of overspeculation on this team," Spoelstra said.
Yes, but to that fire, the Heat added plenty of fuel.
After that game, the Heat held a players-only meeting for 40 minutes. And on Monday, Spoelstra was hardly getting votes of confidence from players like Wade, who said no one -- not coaches, not players -- should feel good about the state of things in the Heat world.
"When you go through stretches where you're not playing up to your capability, there's always something wrong," Wade said. "There's always a problem. There's always a big problem. It's not anything we're concerned with."
Wade said he didn't see the James-Spoelstra interaction during that time-out, which came during a horrific start to the second half by Miami.
"If there was a bump, it was just two guys walking at the same time, just happened to bump each other," Wade said.
There's been no shortage of bumps in the road, though, for the Heat this season.
And given the star power Miami has with James, Wade and Bosh -- not to mention a Hall of Famer like Pat Riley overseeing the franchise -- everything the Heat say and do gets analyzed like no other team in the league experiences.
"It's just crazy," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said, looking incredulously around Orlando's press room. "You play the Heat and it's like double the crowd in here. My God, it's like they're the only team in the league."
For their part, the Heat don't necessarily enjoy that feeling either.