MIAMI -- Having LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together was supposed to be the Miami Heat formula for many championships.
And it might. Someday.
Right now, it isn't. With the playoffs a little more than a month away, time is running out?
So maybe it was fitting that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had his back to the wall of Miami's practice court Monday when trying his best to clear up "Crygate." Here was his clarification: He saw glossy eyes, but heard no whimpering.
Ultimately, little of that matters. A day after Spoelstra said there was "a couple guys crying in the locker room" in the moments that followed Sunday's 87-86 loss to the Chicago Bulls -- the latest entry in a growing list of last-second chances gone awry -- whether tears were falling or not is irrelevant.
Shots aren't falling.
That's the bigger issue for the Heat, who have lost four straight and are early in their toughest stretch of the season. Portland, hardly a slouch from the suddenly surging Western Conference, visits on Tuesday. Kobe Bryant and the two-time defending champion Lakers, who just happened to roll a San Antonio team that embarrassed the Heat last week, stop by Thursday. The Spurs visit next Monday.
Even with that, the Heat confidence remains.
"We're a team that no one wants to see in the first round," Wade said. "We lose every game from here on out, somebody's got to see us in the first round. And the Miami Heat isn't really a team you want to see in the first round.
Despite the "Big Three" averaging a combined 69.9 points, 22.4 rebounds and 13.3 assists, the Heat have clear issues, including consistency at point guard and center along with the bench. In the public eye, every loss seems almost cataclysmic. There's often speculation over Spoelstra's security with the Heat, especially with a Hall of Famer in Pat Riley still looming over the franchise.
They're 43-20, the league's sixth-best record -- not the pace James grew accustomed to when he was the lone true superstar with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who had been among the league's very best. They've had their moments, like a big Christmas win against the Lakers, a late-game rally to win at Oklahoma City, a run of 21 victories in 22 games from Nov. 29 through Jan. 9. That run started after James bumped Spoelstra on the way to a huddle in Dallas and speculation started raining that the Heat were already finished.
Take that stretch away, though, and the Heat are 22-19.
Not the stuff from which titles are made.
"At the end of the day, we're in a good position right now, in the Eastern Conference and in the whole league," James said. "We get a win, we'll be all right."
James was saying the other day that he'd rather get blown out in a game than lose at the buzzer, and at this point, it's easy to see why he thinks that way.
The Heat have lost 11 games already this season in which they had a chance to take the lead or tie the score in the final 12 seconds of regulation or overtime. The team is shooting 1 for 19 in those situations, and the one make -- a dunk by James against Memphis way back in November to tie the game -- came in a game the Heat lost on a Rudy Gay jumper as time expired.
James is 1 for 8 in those situations. Wade is 0 for 3, as is Mike Miller. Eddie House and Mario Chalmers are 0 for 2. Bosh is 0 for 1.
"Growing pains," Wade said.
That wasn't a case of self-loathing from Wade when he sarcastically said Sunday that "the world is better now that the Heat is losing." This team has known from the very beginning that opponents would get up for them and they would be booed in every road arena in which they play.
Bulls forward Joakim Noah says the contempt for Miami may cut even more deeply.
He relayed a story about walking on Miami Beach Saturday, getting recognized by some fans who had a message.
"I was pretty amazed ... so many people saying 'Beat the Heat' in their own hometown," Noah said. "In Chicago, I don't think that happens."
What Spoelstra dubbed "Crygate" was the talk in the New York locker room Sunday night after the Knicks beat Atlanta. And on Monday, former Heat coach Stan Van Gundy weighed in on the state of Miami during his morning availability with reporters in Orlando.
"My suggestion would be if you don't want the scrutiny," the Magic coach was saying, "you don't hold a championship celebration before you even practice together. ... I think the players thought it was going to be easy and they were going to roll over everybody. It hasn't materialized that way."
For the record, the Heat say they accept the scrutiny.
"I find it kind of humorous," Spoelstra said.
James said he feels the same way, at times.
Go back to what the NBA's two-time reigning MVP said when asked on July 9 -- the night of their rock-star-esque welcoming ceremony at the Heat home arena -- which one of the he, Wade and Bosh trilogy would be taking the last shots at the end of games.
"One game or one possession," James said that night, "is not going to define who we are."
A defining moment, however, is coming. And at this point, the Heat can't feel great about their chances when it arrives.