As the playoffs approach, the Heat appear to be on their way to a second straight title.
By CHRIS TOMASSON FS Florida
MIAMI — The
Miami Heat are 34-2 since Feb. 3. Unless NBA Commissioner David Stern decides to call off the playoffs and simply hand the Heat the Larry O’Brien Trophy, one has to try to come up with reasons why they might not be able to win it all.
After all, there are Internet sites and newspapers that need stories and there are television and radio shows that require something to talk about.
So people work diligently to come up with some reason why the Heat could stumble. Two are the most popular:
Dwyane Wade, bothered by nagging injuries and at age 31, might not be healthy in the postseason.
2. The Heat can be beaten up by a physical team.
We’ll start with No. 1, since Wade returned Friday night against Boston after missing six games with knee and ankle problems. Then we’ll address No. 2, since the Heat on Sunday play host to Chicago, the team that used physical play March 27 to stop Miami's 27-game winning streak.
No, Wade didn’t tear it up in his return, a 109-101 win over the Celtics at AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday. But there’s no evidence at this point to suggest he could be enough below par during the postseason to hamper the Heat in their pursuit of a second straight title.
Wade during last year’s playoffs was limping on a sore left knee that would require offseason surgery, and Miami still won the championship. Barring an unexpected setback, it appears he will be much healthier in this postseason than he was last spring.
In 35 minutes Friday, Wade shot 4 of 12 for 11 points and had five turnovers. But he had seven rebounds and six assists and he did finish 4 of 8 from the field after missing his first four shots.
Yes, Wade was rusty. But he doesn’t seem too concerned.
“First quarter, I did,’’ Wade said of being winded. “I felt like they cut all the air off in Miami. But after that, I thought I felt a little better. So it was good to get out there to try to get in a groove and see how my knee feels. So I had some good moments and some moments where I still got some work to do.’’
Wade was listed as being out for the first two games he missed due to a sprained ankle, and it later became ankle and knee problems. But he said the ankle really was “nothing’’ and it was the knee that was the real issue. Regardless of what it was, the Heat, who have wrapped up the NBA’s top overall playoff seed, had the luxury of being able to give Wade plenty of rest.
“The only thing I can worry about is getting as close to 100 percent as I can to get in the playoffs,'' Wade said. "It’s close. I would never get to 100. I ain’t been 100 in a long time. So just getting close and taking the time that's needed to do that. We took care of business this season to be able to put ourselves where we can rest some of our elements.’’
While Wade had sat out the previous six, forward
LeBron James had missed four games during that period and center
Chris Bosh three. One member of the Big Three had missed each of the first five games of the stretch, and they all sat out Wednesday’s 103-98 win at Washington.
So Friday marked the first time the Big Three had played together since March 29 at New Orleans. The Heat were a bit out of sync at the start, falling behind 30-17 to a Boston team that was playing without stars
Kevin Garnett and
Paul Pierce. But Miami blitzed the Celtics 92-71 the rest of the way.
“It’s good in the sense of guys are getting back healthy,’’ said James, who scored a team-high 20 points while being needed for just 29 minutes. “That’s the No. 1 key for our team …. (Wade was Friday) trying to get his rhythm back …. He was pressing a little bit, but just a feel-out game for him and getting his wind back under him. I thought for the most part he played well.’’
Bosh returned after missing one game with a sore knee and two with the flu. He had 17 points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes.
The Heat (63-16) moved closer Friday to being assured of a first-round series with Milwaukee (37-42) rather than one with the Celtics (40-39). One Boston win or one Milwaukee loss and it will mean the Bucks are No. 8 in the East and will face No. 1 Miami.
In the meantime, next up for the Heat is a home date with Chicago on Sunday, when all three members of the Big Three expect to play. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the three then sit out the final two games of the regular season, at Cleveland on Monday and at home against Orlando on Wednesday.
The Bulls got physical with the Heat in their 91-87 win last month. So that brings us to No. 2 on the list of what some are calling a potential Heat pitfall.
“They got to grab onto something,’’ Bosh said of naysayers. “That’s the only thing they can grab onto. They only say it because we’re small or something like that …. People have to hold onto something. They have to believe in something in order to beat us. But we can beat you a bunch of different ways. We’ve played the grind-it-out, slow-paced style. And we’ve proven that we can win doing that. If we play slower, if teams want to play more physical, that’s fine, we’ll play it. We’ll play the game, we’ll win the game. If they want to play fast, we’ll really win.’’
Miami was out-rebounded 48-28 by the Bulls in a 96-89 home loss Jan. 4, although that was before the Heat got additional inside help by signing
Chris Andersen. Still, they were beaten 43-31 on the boards in the loss last month at Chicago.
That, of course, was the game in which James complained about the Bulls taking shots at him, saying they were “not basketball plays.’’ James, though, is ready to see what Chicago might dish out Sunday.
“I expect nothing less than physical,’’ James said. “Everything the whole game will be physical. If it’s guided toward me, if it’s guided toward everyone, I look forward to it.’’
Those in the basketball world will be waiting to see what happens Sunday. They’ll be seeing how Wade continues to look as he eases his way back and into the likely first-round meeting with the Bucks.
It’s doubtful there’s too much to be concerned about with the Heat. But Internet hits, newspaper subscriptions and television and radio ratings are needed, so there needs to be something brought up unless Stern decrees by next weekend just to keep the trophy in Miami.