Arriving in Sacramento amid a stretch of five losses in eight games, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he wasn't taking refuge in the fact that his team still woke up Friday with the best record in the Eastern Conference or in its status as defending NBA champion or the track record of its star-studded roster.
Rather, Spoelstra characterized the 23-11 Heat as a team that's desperate for a road win entering tonight's game against the Kings, their third stop on a six-game trip, after letting a double-digit lead and the game slip away in Portland on Thursday night.
The Kings, meanwhile, are smarting from a blown lead of their own 17 points in an overtime loss to Dallas. And Spoelstra has a pretty good idea by now of what to expect when the Heat, led by reigning MVP LeBron James, walks into an opposing arena.
"What we've faced this year, every team is getting up to try to take us down and probably playing with a little bit more urgency and confidence," Spoelstra said. "We're expecting probably their best game of the season."
That may not be an exaggeration, as the Kings have had a habit in the past two seasons of getting up for the league's marquee teams and then seeing the spark disappear with their opponent's bus.
"They step up to the billing in the big games," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said of the Kings. "We've got to come out and match their energy."
The inconsistency is puzzling for head coach Keith Smart. Players were attentive in film sessions and a walk-through before playing Memphis last Monday, Smart said, but "didn't have the energy" and suffered a 113-81 loss.
Then there are games like the one tonight, which also figures to be played in front of a strong crowd.
"We watched our film from Thursday night, watched a little Miami (Friday afternoon) and even then you could sense that these guys are ready to go and ready to play," Smart said. "That's a real positive sign for our team.
"Now, you want it with every other team you play as well. But we don't worry about the energy level or effort level when you play those teams."
The Heat won the franchise's second championship last year in its second season with the trio of James, Wade and forward-center Chris Bosh. Miami added sharpshooter Ray Allen in the offseason along with veteran forward Rashard Lewis, who has assumed a reserve role.
Smart said the Heat's recent "ups and downs" haven't changed what it does well.
"As long as that group is there, they're going to still play tough defense on you and make you work for it," he said. "They'll still have players that are going to make exciting plays that can be just two points, but they actually become four to six because of the energy it shoots through the team."
At the forefront is James, who is building his candidacy for a fourth MVP award despite seeing his 54-game streak of scoring at least 20 points snapped in Portland on Thursday.
The 28-year-old is averaging 26 points a game, which ranks fifth in the NBA, and a career-best 8.4 rebounds while making 53.9 percent of his shots. James also is averaging 6.9 assists a game, which puts him 10th in the league.
James has enjoyed particular success at what is now Sleep Train Arena, averaging 32.1 points in seven career games.
Overall, the Kings have lost their last seven meetings with the Heat, with their last win coming on March 2, 2008.
Et cetera Center DeMarcus Cousins said he had not been contacted by the league about his flagrant foul during the Kings' loss to the Mavericks.
Cousins was assessed a flagrant foul 2 and ejected after hitting Dallas' Vince Carter in the face with a forearm.
Smart said the Kings are preparing for tonight's game on the assumption Cousins will be available.