Imagine if the Miami Heat were in the NBA’s rugged Western Conference, how much more difficult mounting a legitimate playoff run would be.
Wait a minute. They actually were a Western team, back in Miami’s expansion season of 1988-89, and the results were not pretty.
Maybe you’ve heard of the franchise’s 0-17 start that year against a sprinkling of Western and Eastern teams.
That had coach Ron Rothstein and company scrambling for the slightest taste of success, and they finally got it in mid-December with a groundbreaking 89-88 victory over the Clippers at the old Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Grant Long, Pat Cummings and Billy Thompson contributed 15 points each that night.
Along the way to 15-67 were some truly horrendous happenings and some ridiculous road trips. As a member of the NBA’s Midwest Division, Miami’s closest division rival was about 1,000 miles away in Houston.
One trip crossing from December into January included games at Seattle, Denver, Portland, Golden State, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Those stops were part of a 10-game losing streak and it wasn’t much better when the Heat were home.
Magic Johnson, James Worthy and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers scored a 47-point victory at Miami Arena that season, for instance. That was nice for Pat Riley, who was their coach at the time, but it should be pointed out that the West wasn’t even the toughest conference back then.
The Lakers were swept by Detroit in the 1989 NBA Finals and that set off a five-year championship run by the Pistons and the Chicago Bulls of the Eastern Conference.
What was Miami doing out west in the first place? It was all part of the NBA’s effort to work in some expansion teams and make all the numbers work in the process. Miami and Charlotte came in first, followed by Minnesota and Orlando the following season.
The Heat spent just that one season in the Western Conference, finishing 36 games back of Utah in the Midwest and 42 games behind the top-seeded Lakers.
It took a while, but Miami eventually won three NBA titles. Keep that in mind when today’s Heat team lays an egg like that loathsome 111-109 home loss to Orlando on Monday night.
Remember, too, that just about most every NBA team looks fairly hopeless from time to time.
In 2000 and 2001, Riley failed even to get Miami to 60 points in a couple of bad losses, and those were 50-win Heat teams featuring Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway.