Though they've won two NBA championships, the Heat have never been the top seeded team in the playoffs.
By CHRIS TOMASSONFS Florida
MIAMI -- In their 25-year history, the
Miami Heat have won two championships, including one last season. Now they're setting their sights on something they've never done.
The Heat never have had the NBA's best regular-season record.
But if the Heat and LeBron James continue to play the way they have lately, it could happen. The Heat (36-14), who play their first game following the All-Star break Wednesday at Atlanta, have won seven straight to take a four-game lead over New York (32-18) in the Eastern Conference.
Winning the East is now looking to be the formality it appeared it would be at the start of the season. But suddenly having the No. 1 overall seed looks very possible.
The Heat, after being six games behind West leader San Antonio entering Feb. 3, are now four games behind the Spurs (42-12) and it's just two in the loss column. They're 1 ½ games behind Oklahoma City (39-12) but the teams are even in the loss column and Miami has won the tiebreaker by sweeping the season series 2-0.
"We might as well get it if it's there for us," center Chris Bosh said Tuesday about the Heat going after the No. 1 seed. "If we have the opportunity, you might as well shoot for it. You have to have some sort of pressure (before the start of) the postseason, and that's going to be our pressure is to get the No. 1 overall seed. It's not going to be easy, but we do have a game with San Antonio (March 31 on the road), and that's going to mean a lot. We want (the No. 1 seed). We might as well try as hard as possible to take it."
It's been well chronicled how Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sent Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green home from the Nov. 29 game at Miami. Spurs Lite fought valiantly that night before San Antonio lost 105-100 and the team was fined $250,000.
Wouldn't it be interested if that game plays a role in the Heat getting the No. 1 overall seed? If Miami wins that March showdown in the Alamo City, the Heat would need to make up just one other game in the loss column to catch the Spurs.
While we're looking ahead, it's interesting to note the Spurs won all four of their championships (1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007) while having homecourt advantage in the Finals. They're had the NBA's overall No. 1 seed four times since the start of the 1994-95 season.
"We'd love to get the No. 1 seed," said Heat guard Dwyane Wade. "We play all year to be the best team we can in the regular season, so hopefully that results in us being that… San Antonio always plays at a high level. They're continually getting the No. 1 seed. For us, the only thing we can control is our games that we have and try to play consistent. And if we get it, we do. If we don't, then it's something else we got to deal with."
The Heat are coming off a resounding 110-100 win last Thursday at Oklahoma City, but they're hardly road warriors. They're just 13-11 on the road this season compared to 23-3 at home. So that puts even more of a premium on having the NBA's best record.
"You want to have that homecourt (advantage)," Bosh said. "We know how we play not only in the regular season but in the playoffs on our homecourt, and we know it's a huge advantage (to have the No. 1 seed). If we have that opportunity, we should go out and grab it. If we feel we have four games at home guaranteed in every series, we are extremely tough to beat."
Of course, there's plenty of variables on whether the Heat might end up with the best mark. The Thunder are hardly out of the picture. And it remains to be seen how the Heat might rest players late in the season.
The 50 games Miami has played is tied for the lowest in the NBA. The Heat have nine back-to-back sets of games remaining, which led coach Erik Spoelstra to bristle when asked Tuesday if that might impact in the team's "maintenance" program down the stretch. That's a word used for resting players.
"I'm not even going to get into that," said Spoelstra, who did express hope that forward Udonis Haslem will be back in the starting lineup against the Hawks after missing the Oklahoma City game due to a leg injury. "You know that bugs the heck out of me, guys. We're not going to start talking about maintenance right now. That's a this-generation-of-media obsession of when do you start sitting guys. We have 32 games left. That's absurd."
Miami players sure aren't thinking now about resting. James, who recently had an NBA-record streak of six straight games of scoring 30 points while shooting 60 percent or better, didn't talk about the No. 1 seed with the same zest as Bosh and Wade. But he sure wouldn't mind having it.
"We just want to play our style of basketball every single night, and that will put us in a position to have the No. 1 seed, if we do that," James said.
If the Heat indeed do that, it will be a first in team history.