The Heat have been rolling, but they won't underestimate anyone in the playoffs.
By CHRIS TOMASSONFS Florida
MIAMI — The Milwaukee Bucks no doubt will look. But they might have a hard time finding bulletin-board material coming out of the
Miami Heat camp.
Heat guard Ray Allen said several players talked among themselves the other day. The message was simple as the team prepares to open an Eastern Conference first-round series Sunday against the Bucks.
“We talked about playoff flops of guys that thought they had it going and then they ran their mouths in the media,’’ Allen said. “And you can say it’s a foregone conclusion that I’m moving on and then you don’t move on. So this game will humble you and we all got to stay humble.’’
Allen knows a bit about being a team that is a heavy playoff favorite. He was on the 2007-08 Boston Celtics, who went 66-16, seven games better than anybody else in the NBA. The Celtics lived up to the hype and won the championship.
Now, the Heat, also 66-16, have joined those Celtics as one of just 13 teams in NBA history to have won 66 or more games. Miami, the defending champion, might be an even bigger favorite than Boston was five years ago.
“We shouldn’t be afraid of that target,’’ said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team had the best record by six games in the NBA and by 12 in the East. ““It will be different. We’ll never be the underdog (in the playoffs) and that’s the way it should be. Our guys accept that responsibility and we know we’ll have to prove it every single round.’’
It’s a different journey than the Heat had the previous two seasons. In 2010-11, they had the No. 2 seed in the East and the NBA’s third-best record. Last season, they were No. 2 in the East and No. 4 in the NBA.
In addition, the Heat had plenty of naysayers. There were doubts about how the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would mesh after being put together in 2010. There was talk about James’ inability to win a title and having choked during key moments.
Well, there’s no such talk now. The Heat are expected to romp to the crown.
“I don’t think we’re concerned about being the underdog or being the No. 1 seed,’’ Wade said. “It’s a lot that can be put on it if you’re a No. 1 seed. I don’t really buy into it. I just buy into being a good team and I think if you’re a good team you can win at home and you can win on the road.’’
The Heat lately have taken being a good team to ridiculous extremes. They closed the season by going 37-2, which included a 27-game winning streak.
Now they get the eighth-seeded Bucks (38-44), who went in the opposite direction to close the season. Milwaukee had lost 12 of 15 before winning a meaningless game Wednesday at Oklahoma City, which sat out star Kevin Durant.
James scoffs at the notion the Heat could be overconfident, saying that’s “just not our nature.’’ Bosh says “wanting to win a title’’ is a “driving force’’ for Miami not to take anybody lightly.
“We know looking past teams, it’s disrespectful to the game, disrespectful to them and disrespectful to us,’’ Bosh said. “We don’t want to disrespect the game in any way …. We know if you underestimate somebody, you can get beat.’’
It might be hard for that to happen against the Bucks. Yes, they generally have played the Heat well during the Big Three era. After dropping the first three in 2010-11, they had a stretch in which they won four of six over three seasons. But they’ve been clobbered in the past two meetings, both coming during Miami’s 37-2 run.
Some Milwaukee players might be too concerned with their individual futures. Guard Brandon Jennings, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, said he could help his contract situation if he puts “on a show in the playoffs.’’ Also, Monta Ellis, Jennings’ partner in the Bucks’ well-regarded backcourt, might opt out of the $11 million due on his contract next season and become a free agent.
In addition, there’s uncertainty with the coach. Interim boss Jim Boylan is a long shot to be back after going 22-28 as the the replacement for Scott Skiles.
Still, Allen might want to lend wisdom to his teammates about being a front-runner. As good as the Celtics were in 2008, they still needed seven games to beat a 37-45 Atlanta team in the first round of the playoffs and seven also in the second round to defeat a 45-37 Cleveland outfit that featured James.
“That’s the one thing now is that nothing is guaranteed,’’ Allen said. “Milwaukee is not going to say, ‘We’re here and we’re going to get beat in four games.’ ’’
That still could happen. And to make it easier the Heat will do their best not to provide the Bucks any bulletin-board fodder.
Three reasons why the Heat will win the title
1. One word: LeBron. The legends of the game step up in the playoffs, and James wants to cement his name on the list. After a fabulous regular season, which will result in James winning his fourth career MVP, James might just take his game to an even higher level.
2. Other stars playing their roles. Wade and Bosh know James is the man, but they realize there will be times they really have to step up. It certainly helps that Wade looks close to full health after recently missing six straight games due to a knee problem.
3. The Heat have more depth than the Mariana Trench. They have numerous players who can fill roles off the bench. Reserve forward Rashard Lewis said the Heat are so deep they could be a “four or five’’ seed in the East if they didn’t have James, Wade and Bosh.
Three reasons why the Heat won't win it (yes, it's a stretch)
1. Injuries. It might take a serious one to a team star. But even last year Bosh missed nine playoff games due to an abdominal strain and Miami still was able to survive.
2. Physical play. Teams that were physical with the Heat, namely Chicago and Indiana, did have some success against them during the regular season. But Miami players say they have no worries about any foes using rough tactics against them.
3. Three-pointers aplenty. The New York Knicks used the long ball to beat the Heat three of four times this season. In those three games, the Knicks made 51 of 107 3-pointers for 47.7 percent. It might take similar showings for New York to have a chance in a possible Eastern Conference finals match-up.