At times such as these, when the best of victories, such as Friday night’s over the Boston Celtics, wind up being followed by the worst of results, such as losing to the shorthanded Memphis Grizzlies and awful Detroit Pistons, hope is embraced wherever it can be found.
At the moment, as the Miami Heat regroup from consecutive hideous losses, hope wears No. 4.
That at least delivered a degree of optimism from Tuesday night’s 116-96 loss to Detroit that dropped the Heat to 11-14 and 11th place in the Eastern Conference.
No, Victor Oladipo’s season debut after months of pushing back from knee pain, is not a panacea to all that ails Erik Spoelstra’s team during this unexpectedly flat start to the season. But the return of the former All-Star is a step forward for a team that seemingly only has stumbled to this stage.
“From the human side of it,” Spoelstra said, “forget about the basketball or how he performed or what it looked like. I don’t want to say I don’t care, or that it’s irrelevant. But the human side of it is you’re really happy for him.
“He’s been through a lot, really, the last three-plus years. And he’s had to show a great deal of perseverance and fortitude, to do most of his work when nobody’s even paying attention. That can be very lonely. And it’s tough on anybody. So for him to just get back out there, I think it was a big step for him.”
It was, in many ways, a return by the 30-year-old guard that mirrored the Heat’s season. One step forward, a few steps back, wobbles along the way.
In going 18:32 in the first game of the three-game homestand that continues Thursday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, Oladipo shot 3 of 9 for nine points, with two rebounds and two assists, the Heat outscored by 12 when he was on the court.
“Obviously it wasn’t what we wanted or I wanted,” Oladipo said of the Heat’s third loss in the last four games, after a three-game winning streak. “But it’s certainly good to play again. So it’s just good to be out there. I’m optimistic. Just going to keep getting better. And everything else will take care of itself.”
Perhaps the most heartening sign, Spoelstra said, was that Oladipo came out of his season debut capable of more.
“As I was walking here,” Spoelstra said during his Tuesday postgame interview, “he was already in the weight room, getting some extra work. So that’s a good sign that the minutes were fine. And I think that’s because it was an appropriate, healthy plan the last few weeks to get him to this point.”
With so many players in and out of the lineup this season due to injury and other reasons, including Jimmy Butler being given Tuesday off for what the team termed “Right Knee; Injury Management,” an earlier return by Oladipo might have prevented this uphill climb.
But, as has been the case with his knee issues over the last four-plus seasons, Oladipo said prudence had to be the priority.
“Honestly, we came up with a whole plan a while ago,” Oladipo said. “So just following the guidelines, listening to my body, seeing how I respond to the load, seeing how I respond to playing and being active and working out and stuff.
“So within the last two, three weeks, I’ve been doing really well, responding really well. So we just felt like this was a good day to come back and try to come out here and play. I felt good. The bright side of everything is that my body felt good and I felt good out there. So sky’s the limit.”
So, yes, hope amid anxiety for a team that had far greater expectations in the standings.
“I’m extremely happy for him. I see how hard he’s been working,” guard Tyler Herro said. “Even in the summer, we were in L.A. together, seeing how hard he’s been working all offseason, to get to this point.
“I told him early on in the game, he had missed a couple of buckets he usually makes, and I told him he looks good. He was getting out on transition, how he was running, how he was moving. I thought he looked good.”
Amid the Heat’s stop-start when it has come to the injury absences of so many on the roster, including Butler, and now center Dewayne Dedmon and Gabe Vincent, who also were held out Tuesday, Spoelstra tempered the Oladipo expectations.
“Because there will be a minutes restriction for whatever X-period of time,” Spoelstra said. “But the most important thing is he’s feeling great.”
And, so, therefore, hope in a No. 4 uniform, when hope has been in such limited supply.
“I think it just takes time,” Oladipo said of himself and his team. “We have a very talented team. We have a lot of versatility, a lot of guys that can do a lot of things. And guys have been in and out of the lineup, dealing with injuries. So, you know, it takes time to get things clicking. And, you know, as guys get healthy, as guys get back in the lineup, we’ll figure it out, and things’ll get better.
“It’ll click and it’ll make sense as we build some consistency.”