And now begins the second season.
The Heat limped and tripped and rested and yawned its way through a regular season that came to a thankful end on Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Dwyane Wade called it the most grueling schedule the Heat has faced since 2010, and thats saying something, considering Wade sat out 28 of those games.
A throwaway 100-87 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers stood as the final measure of the final tune-up before the Heat begins preparations for its first-round opponent, the Charlotte Bobcats. The last time the Heat traveled to Charlotte for a playoff game (2001), the Queen City was still on its first NBA franchise, the Charlotte Hornets. That group moved to New Orleans, and now Charlottes latest professional basketball team is owned by Michael Jordan.
An odd rivalry has always simmered near the surface between Jordan and James, which might stand as the most interesting component of this first-round matchup. After all, since James arrived in Miami, the Heat hasnt lost to Jordans Bobcats. The first game of the series is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Awaiting the Heat in the second round is the winner of a first-round series between the third-seeded Toronto Raptors and sixth-seeded Brooklyn Nets. For obvious reasons, a series between the Heat and either one of those teams would be appealing.
Heat forward Chris Bosh used to play for the Raptors, and he has already noted how insane Torontos Air Canada Centre would be for a series against the Heat. A second-round matchup between the Heat and Brooklyn would create plenty of buzz.
The Heat, which finished the season with 54 wins and 28 losses, rested James, Bosh, Chris Andersen, Mario Chalmers and Rashard Lewis for game No. 82, and coach Erik Spoelstra started Wade with Toney Douglas, James Jones, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem. Of that group, only Wade and Haslem are expected to contribute significant minutes to start the playoffs.
James and Bosh rested during the Heats final two games of the regular season and will have a full week of down time before the playoffs.
I cant say I was necessarily thinking that or planning that 10 days ago with how the season was going but the way it turned out, sure, I feel good that theyre both able to get a couple days off, Spoelstra said.
Wade played in his third game since returning from a hamstring injury sustained on March 26. He finished with a team-high 16 points in 23 minutes. All things considered, Wade said the Heat had a successful regular season.
Weve had a lot of different moving parts this year, and a lot of things that have been really different, obviously, with me missing games and other guys missing games and our schedule was a little more grueling than it was the last couple years, a little bit more challenging from that standpoint, Wade said. I wouldnt look at it and say we were bored with the NBA season at all. We did a pretty decent job with what we had.
Michael Beasley, who played what could have been his final regular-season game with the Heat, left in the third quarter with an apparent ankle injury. He finished with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting.
And then there was the significance of Battiers start. Battier has hinted that this will be the final season of his career. If so, he played in 977 games over a 13-year career with 705 starts. He needed 36 minutes on Wednesday to reach a milestone of 30,000 minutes for his career. He played nearly 40 minutes and finished with nine points, going 3 of 4 from three-point range.
Greg Oden returned from back spasms and a stomach illness to play in his first game since March 26. He logged 14 minutes and had two points and five rebounds. He hasnt conditioned much since injuring his back.
I havent been able to do too much crazy pounding just because we didnt want to do anything to make sure it didnt flare up anymore, Oden said. We did as much as we could to keep it at a good distance. We will see. Thats all I can say.