All the Miami Heat did was set a franchise single-season record for wins with four games left to play, clinch the top overall spot in the NBA and secure home-court advantage for the entirety of the playoffs. No big deal.
No wild celebration was merited. No celebration at all, really. Just business as usual for the Heat, whose lone goal isn’t being the best team in April - but rather, being the best team in June. Miami wrapped up the No. 1 overall seed with a 103-98 win in Washington on Wednesday, a game where the Heat played without LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem, all sidelined by minor injuries or illness.
“We’ve had an amazing year,” Heat forward Shane Battier told reporters in Washington. “We’ve set a lot of records and we’ve had a lot of story lines the whole year. Hopefully our best story line is still ahead of us. That’s what we’re saving the high-fives for.”
It was Miami’s 62nd win, one more than the Heat club of 1996-97 managed.
And now what has seemed inevitable for the last couple weeks - Miami finishing the regular season atop the league - has become reality.
“We don’t set out to have milestones,” said James, the reigning NBA MVP and a favorite to win that award for a fourth time this season. “We only set out to get better each and every day and try to win a championship.”
Having that No. 1 seed might sound good, but guarantees nothing. In the most recent nine seasons, the only team to finish the year with the best regular-season record and even make the NBA Finals was the 2007-08 Boston Celtics, who won that season’s title.
Wrapping everything up now means that the final four games, all of which could have been oh-so-intriguing for the Heat, now basically don’t mean very much, at least from the Miami perspective.
Of course, neither did the 27-game winning streak, the second-longest stretch in league history. Most inhabitants of the Miami locker room didn’t even know when the Heat won the division title. For Miami, it’s a championship-or-bust year, which explains why the scene in Washington on Wednesday night didn’t differ much from any of the previous 61 Heat victories this season.
“We’re sitting at 62 wins,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It does mean something for us in that locker room. We haven’t been here before as a franchise. It’s a minor thing. We want to keep the main thing the main thing. But at the same time, it is a nice accomplishment for our franchise and everybody involved.”
The question for Spoelstra now to ponder is how to rest players before Game 1 of the playoffs, a series that will likely be against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Boston plays at Miami on Friday in an Eastern Conference finals rematch from a year ago. On Sunday, Chicago - the team that snapped Miami’s 27-game winning streak - visits the Heat. After that, all that remains for Miami is two matchups with lottery-bound clubs, one of those games being a trip to James’ former home court in Cleveland, followed by a home finale against Orlando.
There’s playoff ramifications for the Celtics and Bulls in those games, though it’s unclear how or if that may sway the Heat thinking when it comes to assembling a lineup, especially with all these little nagging injury issues popping up so close to the postseason.
“It’s always nice to have home-court, especially in front of our fans the way they get involved in games and how well we play at home,” Heat forward Mike Miller said. “It’ll be a big advantage for us - we hope.”
Miami has the league’s second-best home record so far this season, trailing only the Denver Nuggets. And since James and Bosh arrived in Miami, the Heat are 20-4 in home postseason games, with one of those losses being the Game 6 defeat to Dallas in the 2011 NBA Finals.
That’s why the Heat aren’t overstating the importance of home-court advantage.
“It’s nice. It’s nice. It’s not everything,” Battier said. “Our mindset last year was `Anyone, anywhere.’ And I think that’s the best mindset going into the playoffs, but it was nice to have a Game 7 against Boston at home, in retrospect.”
The next week or so will not be vacation time for Miami, regardless of who’s in uniform for the remaining four games.
First, the training room will be a bustling place, with so many players having so many issues that necessitate at least some form of treatment right now. James is notorious for studying absurd amounts of film and tendencies for his playoff opponents, a process that will begin when someone is locked into the No. 8 spot on the East bracket. And since March 22, the “Big Three” of Wade, Bosh and James have played together only twice.
Then again, this is also the time of year Miami has been waiting for since last year’s NBA Finals ended.
“You can’t be afraid of success,” Spoelstra said. “And we’ve had a target on our back all year and in the playoffs that’s the way it should be coming off of the finals from last year. So we talked about it from the very first day of training camp - this is a different year, a different journey and it’s already shaping up to be that. We had to earn the home court. We’ll have to prove it now when we get there.”
Philippines Daily Inquirer