After special season, Heat ready for playoffs

BY foxsports • April 18, 2013

MIAMI — The road to the NBA championship runs through Miami. Call it Route 66.
 
The Heat wrapped up a magnificent regular season with a 105-93 win Wednesday night over the Orlando Magic at AmericanAirlines Arena. They finished 66-16, becoming the 13th team in NBA history to win 66 or more games.
 
“It’s amazing. It’s amazing. It’s amazing,’’ forward Udonis Haslem said of his Heat reaching that franchise record win total as they prepare to open the playoffs Sunday at home against Milwaukee at 7 p.m.
 
True, but some on the Heat thought the total could have been even more. After all, Miami closed the regular season by winning a staggering 37 of 39. That included a 27-game winning streak, the second-longest in NBA history.
 
“We still feel like we threw away so many games early and midway through the season,’’ Miami guard Ray Allen said. “It seems like we easily could have won 70.’’
 
The NBA record is the Chicago Bulls having gone 72-10 in 1995-96. So maybe that’s a target to shoot for next season.
 
In the meantime, the Heat can’t be too displeased with winning 66. But it might not mean much if come June they aren’t clutching the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the second straight year.
 
“If only capped by winning a championship at the end of the day,’’ Heat guard Dwyane Wade said of the 66-in total really meaning something. “You can say that’s unfair. You can say a lot of things. But we’re built to win a championship.’’
 
If that happens, then the Heat truly could go down as one of the best teams in NBA history. After all, they’ve already exceeded Wade’s expectations.
 
“No,’’ Wade said of whether he thought before the season the Heat could win as many games as they did. “I was hoping for 60, for sure …. I couldn’t say I would have seen us here winning 66 games.’’
 
What the Heat now need is 16 more. That quest begins for the East and NBA’s overall No. 1 seed begins Sunday against the East’s No. 8 entry.
 
The Bucks (38-44) enter the playoffs largely in a free fall. They had lost 12 of 15 until getting a 95-89 win Wednesday at Oklahoma City, with the Thunder not playing Kevin Durant and using three other top players for eight or fewer minutes.
 
Diminishing Milwaukee’s hopes even more, the Bucks will run into a Heat outfit truly running on all cylinders. They won their eighth straight Wednesday, and Wade has pronounced himself fit for the playoffs after missing six recent games primarily due to a knee problem.
 
While Heat star LeBron James missed Wednesday’s game due to personal reasons and wasn’t even at the arena and center Chris Bosh sat out, it was a bit of as surprise Wade played. Wanting a final run while getting his wind back, Wade scored 21 points and had 10 assists in just 23 minutes.
 
“I feel ready to go,’’ Wade said about the postseason after playing his third game out of four after the missed six. “I thought the time off was needed and helped me get a little stronger. I thought I did enough these three games. The first game was a little tough from not playing for awhile but these last two I was really getting into the flow and a groove. I am ready for Sunday.’’
 
Wade finished the season averaging 21.2 points and shooting a career-high 52.1 percent. James, who averaged 26.8 points, and Bosh, who averaged 16.6, also had career shooting bests of 56.5 and 53.5 percent, respectively.
 
That’s how efficient the Heat were this season. Put it all together, and it resulted in 66 wins.
 
“The guys in the locker room should be proud,’’ coach Erik Spoelstra said of the total. “It wasn’t a season to come in and rest on your laurels and live in the past …. You can succumb to a lot of the cliches. Championship hangover and things of that nature. But our guys focused on getting better.’’
 
The Heat were so good they had a 9-1 stretch to close the season that included the three stars only playing together just twice. For six of those games, just one played. In two of those games, none did, and they both resulted in road wins.
 
With point guard Mario Chalmers also sitting out and Wade playing less than half the game, stepping up against the Magic were three players who haven’t been regular members of the rotation. Mike Miller had 21 points, Rashard Lewis 16 and deep reserve Juwan Howard got 12 in what might have been the final career regular-season game for the 40-year-old.
 
“I think we would be fighting for around that four or five seed,’’ Lewis said about how good the Heat would be in the East if they didn’t even have James, Wade and Bosh on the team. “I think we would have a good chance to have homecourt advantage in the first round.’’
 
That’s how good the Heat understudies think they are. So good luck to Milwaukee.
 
With the road to the NBA title going through Miami, the Bucks will come in already looking like roadkill.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com
or on Twitter @christomasson
.


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