CHARLOTTE — Among the phrases to lately work their way into the Miami Heat vernacular is “connective tissue.”
And yet, now on the team’s first five-game winning streak in more than a year, there has been little connection in many aspects to how it recently has come together, as the attention turns to Tuesday night’s game against the Charlotte Hornets, the final stop on their four-game trip and the team’s second game in the NBA’s new In-Season Tournament.
During this five-game run, the Heat have won:
— Twice without Tyler Herro, who suffered a Grade 2 ankle sprain in Wednesday night’s victory over the Memphis Grizzlies at the start of this trip.
— Once without Jimmy Butler, who missed Saturday night’s victory over the Atlanta Hawks for personal reasons, and once without Kyle Lowry, who was given Sunday night’s victory over the San Antonio Spurs off for rest.
— With Kevin Love benched by coach Erik Spoelstra in the first three games, and then with Love contributing in Atlanta as a starter and then San Antonio as a game-changing reserve in his 12-point third quarter.
— With Josh Richardson ailing with back spasms and then with Richardson breaking out of his early-season funk with 16 points in Atlanta and then two game-sealing shots in San Antonio.
— With some of the worst of Duncan Robinson (1 of 10 on 3-pointers Saturday in Atlanta) and then a season best from Robinson (his game-high 26 points Sunday in San Antonio).
— With three different lineups in the last three games, a trend that now has seen the Heat use a league-high seven in this 6-4 start.
That’s not to say there haven’t also been constants, such as the defense Haywood Highsmith has provided since being injected into the opening unit at power forward, the unexpected contributions from backup point guard Dru Smith, and, of course, the mind-bending statistics from center Bam Adebayo, whose latest contribution was 24 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in Sunday’s 118-113 victory in San Antonio.
“Just finding ways to win, keep impacting winning and we’re getting the job done right now,” Adebayo said of both himself and his team. “We’re keeping the main thing the main thing. And just moving forward, keep collecting wins.”
From the depths of 1-4, it’s as if a team has found itself even while losing players along the way.
“I would have to say just the grit,” Smith said of the connective tissue of the streak. “There’s been times we’ve been down in every game, so just having that connectivity to be able to fight back, come together as a team each time in all five of those games is something I think will continue to translate and something that we’ll definitely need at some point down the road.”
As it is, the Heat still have been outscored this season, still have a negative net rating. In Atlanta, a 21-point lead got down to six late. In San Antonio, there was the need to overcome a 19-point deficit.
“We had a tough stretch to open,” Robinson said, with a schedule that has 12 of the Heat’s first 17 on the road. “There’s been some encouraging things from that stretch, but just trying to put it together. And we have over this last stretch. It hasn’t always been pretty, but we’re growing and learning throughout the highs and lows.”
Last season, the Heat found themselves in chase mode after an uneven start, winding up seventh in the Eastern Conference and as a No. 8, before turning it around on their run to the NBA Finals.
This season, the goal has been to avoid such angst.
“I guess we started picking up great habits,” Butler said of this run against the Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Lakers, Grizzlies, Hawks and Spurs. “Win as many as you can now, in the future and later on. But I think we’re playing some really good basketball right now. We’re through it together, wins and losses. Right now, it feels good to go through the wins together.”
No matter how.
“Just coming together,” Robinson said. “Understand that we don’t have to play our A game to win and we can win in different ways. I think you saw that (Sunday). We didn’t play our best, but we just found a way.”