The Miami Heat are coming off a 37-45 season and it feels pretty darn good.
That’s not the sort of sentiment normally tied to a record like that, but training camp is just a month away (Sept. 26) and it’s time to start ramping up the expectations for the vision of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside finally all running the court at once, plus A’mare Stoudemire and top draft pick Justise Winslow ready to come rumbling in off the bench.
That doesn’t sound or feel like a 37-45 team. That feels like the playoffs.
Just to show the difference, psychologically and emotionally, think back to the last Heat team with a similar record.
Miami went 36-46 in the 2001-02 season. Eddie Jones led the team in scoring at 18.3 points per game but he was 30 and looking back on his former all-star years. Alonzo Mourning, one of the toughest players in Heat history, was still a top-five shotblocker and averaging 15.7 points per game but Zo’s days as a Heat regular were coming to a close. He missed the following season because of kidney disease so urgent that it necessitated a transplant.
Pat Riley was coaching the team at the time and depending on veterans like Brian Grant, Rod Strickland and Kendall Gill to play great defense collectively. They did that, but Miami couldn’t find any offensive flow, finishing last in the NBA at 87.2 points per game.
There was little reason to be excited about the following season. Even with promising draft pick Caron Butler joining the team, the Heat bottomed out at 25-57 in 2002-03 and Riley soon stepped aside as coach to start building for a championship run from the front office. Couldn’t see Wade coming in the draft just yet. Couldn’t see much of anything.
The franchise’s current situation has nothing in common with that dismal outlook. Even though Miami missed the playoffs last year, breaking a six-season string that included two NBA titles, there’s no reason to expect it will happen again.
LeBron James and the Cavaliers are better than Miami. The Chicago Bulls might be. That’s about it in the Eastern Conference.
If something is still needed to whet your appetite, the Heat’s opening preseason game is Oct. 4 vs. Charlotte at AmericanAirlines Arena. Sure, that’s a Sunday, but the Dolphins are playing the Jets in London at 9:30 that morning so there’s no conflict with the 6 p.m. basketball start.
At times like this, it seems South Florida sports fans really can have it all.