Whatever happens to Heat now, it can’t be worse than their opening 1996 draw against MJ’s merciless Bulls

 

There is one super player in the Eastern Conference but no super teams, which makes me feel kind of hopeful about the Miami Heat’s chances for getting past Philadelphia and reaching the second round of the playoffs.

If that doesn’t sound like much of a goal, or even if you’re feeling a little sorry for this team devoid of dominating stars, think back to Pat Riley’s first season in Miami.

In his role as head coach and master of everything, the Godfather worked deals that

Dennis Rodman fouls Alonzo Mourning. Photo by Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post.

brought Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway to the Heat. Together they went 42-40 in the regular season, not much different than the results we’re seeing now, but then came a first-round matchup with the 72-10 Chicago Bulls in the 1996 playoffs.

Here is a column I wrote at the end of that horrible mismatch, a three-game sweep by the Bulls in which the closest game was 17 points. Dennis Rodman’s spicy autobiography “Bad As I Wanna Be” was released right then, too, which made the whole series feel like a promotional tour for the Worm and a fruitless exercise for the Heat.

“We played hard,” said Miami’s Rex Chapman, but they are on a mission and there’s nothing you can do.”

Things are so much better now. Even if the Heat had drawn LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the first round this weekend, it couldn’t have been as dismal. They’re plenty they can do against any team in the East these days. So let the 2018 playoffs begin, but not before this reminder of what life was like for Miami and everybody else under the inviolate Jordan Rules.

 

(From the May 2, 1996 edition of the Palm Beach Post)

By Dave George

Post Columnist

        A PRIMER ON HOW TO BE GREAT

The Miami Heat took their medicine sitting down Wednesday night, their celebrity coach never leaving his chair in the fourth quarter of a 112-91 loss and their sellout home crowd reduced to gawking at the greatness of the Chicago Bulls.
The Heat weren’t just swept in this best-of-five opening playoff series. They were vacuumed up, bagged and left by the curb of Miami Arena. Total domination, Pat Riley called it, and so it was. Michael Jordan headed for the locker room early, and Scottie Pippen called for his ice bags on the bench. Had this blowout lasted another few minutes, he would have called for his pipe and slippers, too.
“I know one thing I’m going to aspire to next year,” Riley said, and a roomful of reporters leaned forward for a philosophical pearl. “I’m going to make sure the playoff seed has to be six through three. It cannot be seventh through eighth.”
It cannot, in other words, bring the Heat anywhere close to Chicago in the opening round of the playoffs. The No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference is for sparring partners, not contenders. Miami can move up based on the progress made after the great February trade-off. Wednesday, however, was too wobbly to use as a foundation for anything but a fire drill.
“We ran into a good team,” said Rex Chapman, who scored 39 points in a February upset of the Bulls here but only six Wednesday. “We played hard. They are on a mission and there’s nothing you can do.”
Jimmy Buffet did his best to make this Game 3 worth playing. He sang the national anthem and 15,200 fans, armed with giveaway clacker noisemakers, provided the passionate percussion. This will be remembered, however, as the night the music died. Miami trailed by 31 points at one point and pretty much went through the motions while Chicago’s benchwarmers piled it on.
Chicago will at least get a fight from the New York Knicks. All Miami provided was a vacation.
So overwhelming is Chicago’s power over the masses that all it takes is one Bulls player to make a low-profile team like the Heat an irrelevance in their own building. Wednesday’s pre-game sideshow centered on Dennis Rodman and his bawdy book, advance copies of which are beginning to make the rounds.
On the cover is a photo of the Worm in the nude, holding a basketball where the sun don’t shine and the fig leaves don’t grow. There is a chapter devoted to the intimate details of Rodman’s brief fling with Madonna, which is surprising only in that Madonna didn’t strike first with this subject matter. NBA Commissioner David Stern, at Miami Arena Wednesday to monitor the storm around Chicago’s playoff run, said Rodman “is a phenomenon, maybe the best media creation of his own image that I’ve ever seen.”
Rodman, meanwhile, sat at his locker before the game saying whatever he believed would shock reporters most. “Pat Riley’s time has passed,” he said, and “the Knicks have a yellow streak down their back.” Of Alonzo Mourning, Rodman asked “$15 million for what? He hasn’t accomplished anything to me.”
Rodman wears controversy like a crown, always willing to take the lunacy to another level. Miami counters with a seriousness that is deadly. Zo screams. Riley preens. And all the while the Bulls are laughing.
Blaming Mourning’s lack of production, a popular rationale in the first two blowouts at Chicago, didn’t even fly this time. Zo had 20 points by half time, more even than Jordan, and finished with a game-high 30.
The Bulls, meanwhile, were their usual brutish selves, piling on at every opportunity. Did Rodman really slam home a reverse dunk in the second quarter or was that a preview for his upcoming music video? At some point it ceases to matter.
We have come to that point, of course, and surpassed it. The glorious debut season of Pat Riley has ended in the manner of Kevin Loughery before him.
Sitting down and looking up at the merciless Chicago Bulls.

[Felipe Alou, the Dominican baseball legend, has deep Palm Beach County ties]

[Golden Bear’s grandson thrills Masters crowd with an ace of his own]

[Amendola is another Texas Tech tough guy, like Zach Thomas and Wes Welker]

 

Every amazing thing we’re seeing from LeBron was predicted on the day he left high school

 

All right, so this LeBron James guy is pretty good.

Here he is again, cruising into the Eastern Conference finals with…oh, what does it matter which team he is on at a particular moment?

TORONTO – Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James slam-dunks past Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka (9) during  Game 4 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series on Sunday. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Whoever has this guy is going places, as demonstrated by the fact that LeBron will be playing in his seventh consecutive NBA Finals if the Cavaliers get there this year, and surely they will.

I thought it might be fun to look back at coverage from the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper on the day LeBron was drafted to see what people in the industry were saying about him. Of course, every indicator was great. The guy came straight out of high school to be selected No. 1 overall in the 2003 NBA draft.

Could anyone have seen all this coming, however, with absolute certainty?

Consider that LeBron averaged 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists in his senior season at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio.

His career numbers in the NBA postseason against the best of the best aren’t much different – 28.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game.

Here is what LeBron said about his expectations on the day he was drafted.

“As a 6-8 point guard, I can rebound and do what Jason Kidd does,” James said. “There’s a lot of mismatches for a 6-8 point guard, it’s like going back to the Magic Johnson days. At whatever position I’ll play, I’ll bring the willingness to win because I don’t accept losing very well.”

Cavs teammate Darius Miles clearly agreed. He took one look at the high-schooler and said “LeBron’s like one in a million. There was Magic Johnson, now it’s LeBron James.”

[60th anniversary of Herb Score’s brutal baseball injury]

[A clearer picture of the challenge Brad Kaaya faces in Detroit]

[Draft confirms Adam Gase has confidence in himself and his plan]

Then there was the world association game played by ESPN’s talking heads. Going around the table, each gave a quick one-word reaction to the simple prompt of “LeBron James.”

Jay Bilas’ answer was “Springfield.”

No pressure, huh?

Most amazing of all when compared to today’s numbers, LeBron’s rookie contract, regulated by an established pay scale, was $18 million for four years.

Last year, LeBron’s agent told GQ magazine that the star’s current Nike contract is worth more than $1 billion all by itself.

There’s really no such thing as a simple summer for Dwyane Wade

Sounds like a simple summer for Dwyane Wade. At least that’s the way Pat Riley is framing the necessary recommitment of the Miami Heat to its star player, and vice versa.

“We’ll sit down and we’ll talk about that with Dwyane,” said Riley, who doesn’t do much for his negotiating position by proclaiming last season as Wade’s best overall performance since prior to the Big Three era.

Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade looks on after his team lost in Game 7 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto, Sunday, May 15, 2016. The Raptors won 116-89. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
TORONTO – Dwyane Wade looks on after the Miami Heat lost in Game 7 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals against the Raptors on May 15, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

“He wants to win, I think, as much as he wants to do anything. Compensation to a player is not just a way to get paid and to live your life. Compensation to a player is about recognition and respect and place. We know where he belongs…He’s a lifer. What he’s done in this city over the last 13 years is irreplaceable and so we’re going to do the right thing. There’s no doubt.”

Wade, who flirted with the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, is in a similarly agreeable mood.

“I don’t want to be on the market at all,” Wade said two days after the Heat’s season ended with a Game 7 loss to Toronto in the Eastern Conference semifinals. “I’m not curious at all. I want to get to it [with the Heat]. I want to be able to sign my deal and move on and not have to deal with any rumors, any free agency, any this, any that. This is where I want to end my career. So we’ll figure it out.”

Oh, what a relief it is to hear such words. Fans in Cleveland can’t count on that kind of assurance from LeBron James. Same for Oklahoma City fans in their relationship with Kevin Durant. It’s a tradeoff, though.

The Cavaliers and the Thunder are in the middle of what could be a championship run for either team. These are the best of times for those franchises, the most hopeful, and it’s because they have dynamic players that everyone else wants and, potentially, somebody else might get.

It’s highly unlikely that anyone would try to steal Wade from the Heat this summer or any summer. He’s 34. Doesn’t mean that Dwyane no longer is capable of scoring 20 points per game, but Allen Iverson played his final NBA season at 34. So did Bob Cousy. Jerry West and Clyde Drexler finished up at 35.

A flashy guard can go longer, but they don’t grow stronger. So the legacy talk begins to slip into conversation, and into Wade’s mind. The three titles. The NBA Finals MVP award. The Hall of Fame leadership and the spectacular ability to close out a game with a series of bruising drives and acrobatic finishes.

It’s a lot, but one day there will be no more, so Riley promises what he can. A friendly sitdown at Dwyane’s convenience, a ton of respect, a fat contract to reseal one great player to one franchise that never would have been as great without him.

You know what else will be in there, right? A tease.

Take a little less than you might like in another one-year deal. Give us a chance to talk to Durant, and not just about next season. Give all the possibilities room to breathe. It’s about more than money for a guy like you, Dwyane. It’s about full recognition and respect, which means somehow getting back to the NBA Finals, if not now then soon.

[Blame New Orleans for the escalation in Super Bowl hosting requirements]

[Missing out on LaMarcus Aldridge hasn’t hurt Heat because of Whiteside]

[An entertaining look back to when the Braves trained in West Palm Beach]

“I think we’re close, I really do,” Riley said during his season wrap-up media session. “We took a step forward. It’s one of the best locker rooms we’ve ever had. The guys really respect each other. I’m very optimistic. Why wouldn’t I be optimistic?

“Plus we’ve got the flexibility this year and next year, and that’s what I’m looking at.”

This year and next year. Just down the road, that’s where this dream is always going, and that’s where it was going even in the years where Wade and the Heat were coming off championship parades.

For that reason it’s never really a simple summer for a guy like him. He’ll be glad to get his Heat contract. He’ll be sad that it’s the only big one put in front of him. He’ll be wishing that Chris Bosh was Chris Bosh again, and that Dwyane Wade was Flash.

Can’t have it all, but he does have a place. It’s right next to Pat Riley, the man who deals out Micky Arison’s millions but sees to it that every now and then Wade still gets to play boss.

 

 

 

Kyle Lowry’s Game 3 breakout is where Heat lost control of the series

To me the story of the Heat-Raptors series was told in the second half of Game 3, and it happened, somewhat surprisingly, at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The Heat had gained a road split to open the series, remember, and everything was looking good for a 2-1 lead with one more game to play in Miami.

TORONTO, ON - MAY 15:  Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors dribbles the ball as Tyler Johnson #8 of the Miami Heat defends in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 15, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON – Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors dribbles the ball as Tyler Johnson of the Miami Heat defends in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

How could that possibly be with Hassan Whiteside sidelined by a knee injury earlier in the same game?

Because Dwyane Wade went on one of his classic scoring spurts in the third quarter that night. He scored 18 of Miami’s 28 points in the period, with a couple of three-pointers back to back. That woke up a sluggish offense and tied the game at 68-68. The place was booming with sound and confidence and with love for the franchise’s cornerstone player.

Then Kyle Lowry put out the fire.

Toronto’s all-star guard is not Wade’s equal. Never will be.

Fact is, Lowry scored just seven points in the series opener against Miami and topped 20 points just one in the previous seven-game series against Indiana.

In the fourth quarter of that Game 3 on May 7, however, Lowry hit his stride. He scored 14 points in the period with a couple of three-pointers included at the cruelest possible times.

His game total of 33 points couldn’t top Wade’s 38, but the power of his fourth-quarter leadership gave Toronto a 95-91 victory. Miami suddenly was down in the series and never back got on top of it again.

Lowry probably won’t average 23.4 points per game in the Eastern Conference finals the way he did against Miami. He won’t be anywhere close to being the best player on the court either.

[Some things LeBron might be doing during long break between playoff rounds]

[Winslow and Richardson bring Heat a rare boost from the NBA draft]

[QB Brandon Doughty well worth a seventh-round pick for Dolphins]

Don’t expect him to back down, though, against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. He’s another of those tough-minded guys from Villanova, and a Philadelphia kid from the start. Listen to this quote and you’ll hear it.

“LeBron’s probably one of the best players in the league, besides Steph Curry,” Lowry said after his own 35-point against the Heat in Sunday’s Game 7 of the Eastern semifinals.

LeBron might have treated Wade with a little kindness if the Heat had advanced, once King James was done scoring 30 points and all. It won’t be that way with Lowry.

It’s an opportunity that Lowry first started earning, though, in Game 3 at Miami and then carried to a rousing conclusion. All we can say is good luck to him, and of course good luck to the first Canadian team ever to reach the conference finals, eh?

Some things LeBron might be doing during the long break between playoff rounds

What is LeBron James doing now that he has all this time on his hands between a couple of playoff sweeps and the beginning of the Eastern Conference finals?

Driving his Kia around Cleveland, I would guess, because he is a man of the people. Well, that and the “Chosen1,” if you read his tattoo art.

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 06: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts to a call against the Atlanta Hawks in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 6, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA – LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts to a call against the Atlanta Hawks in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on May 6, 2016. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Of course, there are many other possibilities.

LeBron could be taking selfies in front of the sky-high mural of himself that hangs on the side of the Sherwin-Williams corporate headquarters building in downtown Cleveland. No time to waste, since the company has announced it will take the mural down in late June to temporarily replace it with one more appropriate for the arrival of the Republican National Convention.

Of course, if the Cavaliers fail to reach or win the NBA Finals, which begin on June 2, that LeBron mural probably comes down a lot sooner.

Hey, here’s another idea. LeBron could fly to Miami and work out with Dwyane Wade again. No, wait a minute, D-Wade is a little busy right now. How about a little fishing trip with Chris Bosh, who is done for the season. That wouldn’t cause much of a fuss, right?

Then there’s the chance to get started on his expected starring role in “Space Jam 2.” LeBron could run some lines with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, just to get a better understanding of the motivations behind their respective roles. Already LeBron has some of their cartoonish facial expressions down pat for the one or two drives each game when he doesn’t get a call. He does a mean Yosemite Sam, too.

Another idea for LeBron filling the unexpected down time by writing a job referral for David Blatt. The former Cavs coach interviewed for the Rockets’ head coaching vacancy this week. Just a few notes jotted down and passed along by King James might make all the difference in how that goes.

For now, though, it figures LeBron’s days would be best spent in the gym, shooting baskets, lifting weights, getting ready for the Heat or the Raptors.

He’s only 43 points shy of passing Shaquille O’Neal for No. 4 on the all-time playoff scoring list, you know. They’ll be talking about that on the TNT set when the time comes and it’s easy to guess what Shaq will say.

He’ll bring all four of his championship rings to the studio, line them up on the table and say something like, “Yeah, LeBron is a great player but this is the only math I care about. Four is greater than two.”

[QB Doughty well worth a seventh-round pick by Dolphins]

[Winslow and Richardson bring Heat rare boost from the NBA draft]

No amount of time off between playoff rounds could motivate LeBron for a big effort more than a dig like that. He doesn’t want rest. He wants respect, and more than a third-place finisher in the MVP voting gets.

This 8-0 start to the postseason is just LeBron getting all stretched out for some real exercise. Lame jokes submitted by a snarky blogger in a rival market can’t change that. Nothing can.

 

Canadian flag flap from 1992 World Series suggests Dwyane Wade will be forgiven

Dwyane Wade has been the villain in too many road games to count. It comes with the territory when you’re an NBA star intent on ending somebody else’s season.

Tonight’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals will be different, however, because this time Wade is being viewed as a bad guy. He’s not, but shooting pregame jumpers during the Canadian national anthem a few games ago in Miami has painted him as one in Toronto.

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 16: A large Canadian flag is unfurled during the singing of O Canada before the start of the Toronto Raptors game against the Indiana Pacers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2016 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA – A large Canadian flag is unfurled during the singing of “O Canada” before the start of the Toronto Raptors game against the Indiana Pacers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on April 16, 2016 (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

This was an unforced error and Wade knows it. His customary pregame routine got interrupted by a change in the anthem presentation schedule and caught him off guard.

Hearing those first few notes should have been enough to stop Wade in his tracks and get him scurrying over to stand in line with his teammates, or maybe, if Wade was wearing earbuds or otherwise zoned out, somebody with the Heat could have gotten his attention. Either way, it happened, and Wade wasn’t quick enough to specifically apologize for showing disrespect, and even in mild-mannered Canada that’s enough to get some anti-social stuff going on social media.

So what will happen tonight as a sold-out Air Canada Centre crowd exacts its revenge?

Not much, I’m guessing, based on another international incident between our nations caused by a sport-related blunder.

During the 1992 World Series a Marine Corps color guard in Atlanta mistakenly raised the Canadian with the maple leaf symbol upside-down. The sergeant who attached the flag had been rushed because it was presented to him just moments before his detail took the field with the introductory fanfare music already playing and, well, nobody knew what was wrong until the bungled banner was already on its way up the pole.

When the World Series shifted to Toronto, Canadian fans could have reacted the way fans in, say, Philly or New York or Miami would have reacted in the situation were reversed. I won’t name all the ways that could have gone. Just imagine it, and then wipe it quickly from your mind.

Instead, the reaction was forgiveness. Thousands of fans stood during the playing of the U.S. national anthem and sang out the words themselves, as loudly and proficiently as they could. In fact, cheers actually filled the stadium when Jon Secada belted out the closing flourish.

Of course, President George H.W. Bush had done what he could to help matters beforehand. In a classic America-first way, of course.

“They are our friends and our allies,” Bush said of Canadians. “They have respect for our flag, and we have respect for theirs. They are a great people, and I hope they come in second in the World Series.”

The Toronto Blue Jays didn’t come in second. They beat the Atlanta Braves in six games, taking the clincher in 11 innings at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

Karma? No, just one good team beating another. It will be that way again tonight in Toronto with either the Heat or the Raptors winning based on nothing whatsoever that happens in the pregame ceremonies.

[Heat and Raptors challenging NBA record for OT games in a series]

[Winslow and Richardson give Heat a rare boost from the NBA draft]

[QB Brandon Doughty is well worth a seventh-round pick by Dolphins]

Just the same, Wade has learned his lesson, and maybe the rest of us will, too, about Canada. It’s too nice of a place and too good of a friend to be ignored, especially when there’s no good excuse for such ignorance.

And as for those times Toronto fans booed Chris Bosh on his return to the city as a member of the Miami Heat, hey, that’s just sports. Everybody gets that.

 

 

 

Want a better playoff winning percentage than Erik Spoelstra? Better hire Phil Jackson

Erik Spoelstra is 45 and looks younger. I mean, going to four consecutive NBA Finals should make a man as gray as four years in the Oval Office but Spo still has a jet-black head of hair and appears ready to take part in any drill if the Miami Heat ever run short of practice players.

Some of this stuff masks what he has become, which is one of the league’s long-timers.

CHARLOTTE, NC - APRIL 29:  Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat yells to his team against the Charlotte Hornets during game six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 29, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC – APRIL 29: Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat yells to his team against the Charlotte Hornets during game six of the Eastern Conference first-round series. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Among active coaches only gruff Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs for 20 seasons, has been running the same team for a longer period of time. Spo is tied for second with Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, each of them at eight seasons and counting in their current jobs.

As the Heat and Toronto Raptors prepare to open an Eastern Conference semifinal series, it seems a good time to congratulate Pat Riley, again, for making such a good choice for his successor in Miami.

Sure, Spo was handed the Big Three on a platter. Sure, he could have won more than two NBA titles with them. Sure, there are reasons to downplay any coach’s contributions to any grand achievement.

Bottom line, though, Spo has kept the team together through all kinds of divisive moments, including LeBron’s departure and Chris Bosh’s medical issues. Now there’s even a flap about Bosh wanting to get back into uniform while the organization continues to wrestle with what is smart and what is safe and what is potentially actionable.

No matter. The Heat keep on winning, as they did in the seven-game series with Charlotte just completed, and Spo keeps on figuring ways to keep them viable as Eastern Conference championship contenders.

Get this. Spo already has more postseason wins (67) than Riley did as Miami coach. What’s more, he’s got more playoff wins than Riley and Stan Van Gundy and Kevin Loughery combined (55) when they were coaching the Heat.

[First-ever NFL draft pick in 1936 chose foam-rubber sales job instead]

[An entertaining look back at Braves’ 35 years training in West Palm]

[10 years after first Heat title team, Wade and Haslem still driving hard]

The longer view is where it really gets interesting.

In all of NBA history, there is only one coach with a higher career winning percentage in the playoffs than Spo. His name is Phil Jackson.

Here’s the list, with the qualifier that these are coaches who worked at least 50 postseason games.

Coach               Playoff wins     Playoff losses   Pct.

Phil Jackson              229                   104                 .688

Erik Spoelstra             67                     39                 .632

John Kundla                60                     35                 .632

Billy Cunningham      66                     39                 .629

Gregg Popovich         157                     95                 .623

Larry Costello              37                     23                 .617

Larry Bird                     32                     20                 .615

Pat Riley                     171                   111                .606

Chuck Daly                  75                     51                 .595

Red Auerbach             99                     69                 .589

 

Never heard of John Kundla? He coached the Minneapolis Lakers and George Mikan in pro basketball’s formative years in a time so different that Kundla decided not to move with the franchise to Los Angeles. He stayed in Minneapolis to coach the University of Minnesota instead.

Spo fits somewhere in between those ancient legends and more recent ring-collectors like Jackson and Riley and Pop. Let’s see where he’ll be in another dozen years, though. If he’s still in Miami and if Riley can lure another major free agent or two along the way, Spo might yet climb near the top of every list.

For today, though, he’s a pretty good man to match up against Toronto’s Dwyane Casey, who is learning fast in his fifth season as an NBA coach but has a career playoff winning percentage of .389.

 

 

 

Ten years after 1st Heat title team, Wade and Haslem deserve their own nickname

 

The Big Three, a championship concept, came and went in Miami.

The Trusted Two, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, remain.

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) drives past Detroit Pistons forward Marcus Morris (13) with the help of teammate Udonis Haslem, left, in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
MIAMI – Dwyane Wade drives past Detroit Pistons forward Marcus Morris with the help of Heat teammate Udonis Haslem on April 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

This is the 10th anniversary season of the Heat’s original NBA title team. Dwyane and Udonis were there.

Young and tough and fearless, they helped to lift the franchise to the top of the league, the place where Pat Riley had been trying to get the Heat throughout a decade of wheeling and dealing and coaching and cajoling.

Old and tough and fearless, Dwyane and Udonis are back at it again, working to remind a fresh set of teammates what it will take to get past Charlotte in the first round, and trying to remind them that every night won’t be as easy as that Game 1 blowout on Sunday.

It would pay to listen to anything these guys have to say, and to mimic any kind of postseason mood they present. You can be certain that coach Erik Spoelstra does.

In 2006, Spo was 35, an assistant, a rapid climber in hopes of running his own team one day. He couldn’t have known that Riley soon would step away from coaching, or that LeBron James would be coming his way, or that 10 years could whistle past as quickly as these have.

Looking back, however, at that original Heat championship roster, the signs are all there, and they are fading fast.

Other than Wade and Haslem, the 2006 Heat player who stayed the longest in the league was Jason Kapono. He logged all of two minutes across that entire postseason and played his last NBA season in 2012 with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Shaquille O’Neal, a new Hall of Famer, made it to 2011 and played with three teams after Miami.

Alonzo Mourning and Antoine Walker finished up in 2008, which was one season longer than Gary Payton.

[NFL draft is rarely enough to instantly transform a team like Miami]

[Most Heat teams with fewer than 50 wins have dead-ended in first round]

[Dolphins got A.J. Duhe with 13th pick and are feeling lucky again]

To many Heat fans in their 20’s, kids who grew up on the Big Three era, it might not be easy to remember that breakthrough 2006 Miami team at all. Why, even Justise Winslow, the 20-year-old rookie who played 27 minutes in his first NBA playoff game Sunday night, is probably pretty fuzzy on the details.

It happened, though, and it’s still happening for The Trusted Two, Wade as a starter and Haslem as a whatever-you-need-whenever-you-need-it.

Consequently, I’ll always appreciate their contributions just a little bit more, and the same goes for Stan Van Gundy, who started out coaching that 2006 Miami team before Riley stepped in and took over.

Stan is still grinding away in the NBA playoffs as coach of the Detroit Pistons. He’ll make LeBron and the Cavs work and in their opening-round series and it figures he’ll still be coaching for somebody somewhere another 10 years from now.

One last thought for the Heat marketing department. With all those White Hot 2016 playoff banners and T-shirts, might it be possible to slip in a few 10th-anniversary Heat championship references? Those guys were the first, and no major achievement ever means more than the first.

Most Heat teams with fewer than 50 wins have dead-ended in first round

Anything could happen with the Miami Heat in the playoffs. Franchise history suggests, however, that not much will.

I know, I know, you don’t want to hear this right now, not with the Southeast Division championship banner soon to be hung from the rafters at AmericanAirlines Arena, and not with home-court advantage against Charlotte in the opening round.

A 48-34 record is pretty great, right, considering the Heat did it without Chris Bosh for a huge chunk of the regular season? That’s an 11-game improvement over last year.  Dwyane Wade got through it, too, without missing many games which means he won’t be limping into the playoffs this time.

Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade (3) gets blocked by Orlando Magic's Elfrid Payton (4) during the first quarter on Sunday, April 10, 2016, at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/TNS)
Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade met in lane by Orlando Magic’s Elfrid Payton on April 10, 2016, at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/TNS)

The problem is, Miami teams with 50 or fewer wins haven’t previously shown themselves as strong enough to make any real noise in the postseason. One series victory and seven first-round losses, that’s the hard truth of it for Heat playoff teams in that category.

In other words, that showdown with LeBron and the Cavs that everybody wants is far from guaranteed.

Every season is different, of course. Every annual lineup of Eastern playoff teams is different based on their relative strengths and the overall depth of the conference.

There are no super teams in the East this time around, though, and that includes the Cavs. The No. 8 seed, Detroit, finished six games above .500. It’s a tight pack overall, which suggests a tough slog for the Heat or any of their rivals, from the opening series on.

Look at the meat of the order, the No. 3 through No. 6 seeds in the East. All four teams finished with the same 48-34 record. As for Miami’s opening assignment, the Heat the the Hornets split four games during the regular season. If there’s an edge here, it’s tiebreaker-thin.

Putting a more positive spin on the thing, nobody’s going to care about regular-season records once the playoffs begin. It will be a matter of which teams get hot at the right time, and which stars come up with big buckets or big stops in the closing seconds of numerous tight games.

Open the net a bit wider and there’s a 52-30 Heat team, roughly as successful as this one in the regular season, that went on to the NBA title. That was 10 years ago, with Wade and Shaquille O’Neal and with mighty Alonzo Mourning coming off the bench, and it changed the way the world looked at this franchise forever.

That group was locked up 2-2 with Chicago in the opening round and in danger of flaming out like so many others. It’s a fine line, all right, when all the lousy teams have already been eliminated and all the easy wins removed from the schedule.

[Dolphins got A.J. Duhe with 13th overall pick and they’re feeling lucky again]

[Simplest early measure to tell if Dolphins hired the right coach]

[Mario Williams is still better than Olivier Vernon at any price]

So take this for what it’s worth. Miami is due for a scrap in the opening round. Appreciate the opportunity. Try not to look ahead. Even if this goes well and the Heat earn a later meeting with LeBron, there’s a long and potentially frustrating fight between here and there.

Nobody wants to say that out loud, but you can beat that Wade and Udonis Haslem will begin to shout it in the locker room now that the long hard push for home-court advantage in the first round is completed.

 

Results of Miami playoff teams with 50 or fewer regular-season wins

Yr         Record     Coach           Result

2010     47-35       Spoelstra       Lost 1st rd (Boston in 5)

2009     43-39       Spoelstra       Lost 1st rd (Atlanta in 7)

2007     44-38       Riley               Lost 1st rd (Swept by Chicago)

2004     42-20       Van Gundy   Lost 2nd rd (Pacers in 6)

2001     50-32       Riley               Lost 1st rd (Swept by Charlotte)

1996     42-40       Riley               Lost 1st rd (Swept by Chicago)

1994     42-40       Loughery       Lost 1st rd (Atlanta in 5)

1992     38-44       Loughery       Lost 1st rd (Swept by Chicago)

(Note – The NBA champion Miami team of 2011-12 Heat won 46 regular-season games in a scheduled shortened by a lockout)