The Heat finished its record-setting regular season here Wednesday night, a conga line of myriad firsts and bests in this 25th franchise year, and South Florida danced to those records, didn’t we? It has been a party and a treat — sweet jam spread over 82 games across 170 days.
The club-record and NBA-best 66 victories.
The nearly impenetrable 37-4 home record.
That 27-game winning streak that challenged league history.
All of this, shepherded by LeBron James’ certain MVP award, minted the single greatest season entering a playoffs that any Miami pro team has had since the 1972 Dolphins were simply perfect.
Yes, what we have witnessed these past five-plus months has been astounding.
It has also been this:
Meaningless, without the fitting punctuation now.
Meaningless, pending what’s directly ahead.
The Heat must now do what the then 16-0 Dolphins did more than 40 years ago:
Not ruin what has been so special.
There is reality, and there is Heat reality.
Reality is the heartache of Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings still echoing across America and sports. It is also reality for the Heat’s Ray Allen, who had a family friend lose a leg in the blast, and whose own wife and mother would have been running in the race, he said, had he re-signed with Boston. A Miami Police Bomb Squad truck loomed outside the arena Wednesday, mirroring heightened security.
This Heat team’s own reality? It is simply that nothing but a repeat championship will satisfy.
Sports’ longest preseason has ended.
The only season that matters for this team, the playoffs, begins this weekend here vs. Milwaukee. And unless Miami has 16 more victories in it, this glowing, historic regular season will be retrofit as mere consolation for the Heat … and not very consoling at that.
That feels harsh, this idea that anything short of another title will be an unequivocal failure. It is the reality Miami has set for itself, though, and even more so because all that has been accomplished this regular season positions this Heat team as greater than ever: They’d BETTER win.
That isn’t just me framing the pressure Miami carries into these playoffs.
Dwyane Wade says it, too. Makes it pretty clear, as a matter of fact.
Wade sat relaxed and unusually reflective before his twin-locker stalls inside the downtown bayside arena before Wednesday’s game, a reserve-filled 105-93 victory over dreadful Orlando. Asked about this remarkable season as it segues to the playoffs, Wade (who would score 21 points in 23 minutes) had every chance to separate the two and say the club records already set stand on their own. Every right to as well.
Instead and without hesitation, he shook his head.
“No, it’s only capped by winning a championship,” Wade said. “You can say that’s unfair, but we’re built to win a championship. If we don’t accomplish that this year, we won’t think about the regular season. Hopefully, we can cap it off and THEN think about the historic regular season we had.”
One of the beauties of being the Heat right now is the way the regular NBA schedule was allowed to so leisurely wind down, culminating with the half-party/half-playground atmosphere of Wednesday’s Fan Appreciation Night. Wade played, but otherwise the stars took the night off. Miami’s interest in winning was, shall we say, casual. It might as well have spread beach sand on the court and had reserves playing in sunglasses and flip-flops, perhaps while sipping margaritas.