Miami hasn't lost like this since the rocky first year of the Big Three era, and the accumulating defeats have left LeBron James looking at a crossroads.
Friday's result: a 111-107 loss to Denver, the Heat's second straight home defeat and their fifth loss in six games. James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined to shoot just 20-for-47 (42.5 percent) from the field and 0-for-8 from three-point range. Miami committed 20 turnovers against Denver, which is nine games out of the playoff chase in the Western Conference.
"We’ve been here before," James said, according to the Miami Herald. "It has been a while, but we’ve been here before, and this moment will either define our season or end our season. … We always have one defining moment, and this is it right here for us."
Perhaps the Heat weren't facing a "must-win" contest, but after recent losses to two conference rivals, Chicago and Brooklyn, and two West contenders, San Antonio and Houston, Friday's game should have been a "taking care of business" kind of night for the back-to-back defending champions.
Instead, Miami lost two consecutive home games for the first time since March 6 and 8, 2011. That's three years ago, before James faded in the 2011 NBA Finals against the Mavericks and before the Heat rebounded to claim titles against the Thunder and the Spurs. Miami also hasn't lost five out of six games since going 1-6, including a five-game losing streak, from Feb. 24, 2011 to March 8, 2011.
"In three years, we haven’t had this," Wade said, according to ESPN.com. "So it has kind of come out of nowhere. We’ve been playing well for a very long time. And even when we’ve lost, we’ve always been able to get it back. No one said it would be perfect. No one said it would be smooth sailing. It’s a challenge and we have to step up to the challenge and not let it go."
Try this comparison on for context: Miami has lost as many games in the last 10 days as it did during the final 95 days of the 2012-13 season. The Heat are 1-5 in their last six games; last year, they went 43-5 in their last 48 games, including their memorable 27-game winning streak.
"We just have to figure it out," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, according to the Sun-Sentinel. "Sometimes it just happens to you in this league, when things turn. ... What we talked about before the game was, 'Play harder.' Even as decorated as our locker room is, this league is a beast."
Friday's loss dropped the Heat (44-19) three games behind the Pacers (48-17) for the East's No. 1 seed with 19 games left on Miami's schedule. Indiana defeated Philadelphia on Friday, and the Pacers' next three games will be against projected East lottery teams. All told, seven of Indiana's 17 remaining games are against East teams on track to miss the playoffs. In other words, if Miami plans to make a move to claim the top seed, it's time to do it.
There is some good news for the Heat: They play Indiana twice in the next month, and they have nine games left against current lottery-bound teams. The Heat also lead the third-seeded Raptors by 7 ½ games, so there's no cause for concern when it comes to slipping in the standings.
''Obviously, we'll be able to get out of it,'' Spoelstra said, according to the Associated Press. ''When? We don't know.'' Miami will play host to Houston on Sunday.