After one year out, the Heat is back in the NBA playoffs for the 17th time in 21 seasons under the stewardship of president Pat Riley and owner Micky Arison. Chicago’s loss to Detroit on Saturday clinched a postseason berth for Miami, which likely will be anywhere from the third to sixth seed.
Meanwhile, the Heat and the Portland Trail Blazers, who met here late Saturday night, share an unusual bond that should be an immense source of pride.
Both organizations have overcome the loss of All-Star players in their prime to remain relevant and playoff-worthy. Miami and Portland might be this decade’s models for that.
“A lot of times, when a player leaves, they go through an organizational change, a GM change. It takes a while to get over the hump,” said Heat center Amar’e Stoudemire, who watched the Suns plunge in the standings after he left for the Knicks in 2010. “But teams who have stayed consistent with their front office have always been able to bounce back.
“[The Heat and Portland] are Class A organizations who … know what it takes to get back to that level.”
After an initial post-LeBron James decline to 37-45 last season due largely to injuries and illness, the Heat entered Saturday at 44-31.
Despite losing second-team All-NBA forward LaMarcus Aldridge to the Spurs last July, the Trail Blazers entered Saturday at 40-36 and sixth in the Western Conference.
So how difficult is it to lose a free agent coming off an All-Star season and stay relevant? Consider:
▪ After James fled to the Heat in 2010, the Cavaliers plummeted from 61 wins to 97-215 over the next four seasons.
▪ After Chris Bosh signed with the Heat in 2010, Toronto went from a 40-win team to 79-151 over the next three.
▪ Since Stoudemire left for the Knicks in 2010, the Suns went from 54-28 (and an appearance in the Western Conference finals) to not making the playoffs any of the six years since.
▪ In the wake of losing Steve Nash to the Lakers in 2012, the Suns went from a .500 team to 25-57 the next season.
▪ After Dwight Howard left Los Angeles to sign with Houston in 2013, the Lakers went from 45-37 to 27-55 and 21-61 the next two seasons.
So how have the Heat and Blazers done it? With smart personnel decisions by their executives (Riley/Andy Elisburg and Portland general manager Neil Olshey), strong coaching (from Erik Spoelstra and Terry Stotts) and an ideal mix of veterans and youth.
More than anything, it helped that other All-Star-caliber players remained after James and Aldridge left: Dwyane Wade and Bosh with the Heat, Damian Lillard with Portland. Acquiring Luol Deng and Goran Dragic obviously was a significant boost for Miami, as well.
It also helped that both franchises infused young talent: Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson with the Heat; and in Portland’s case, 2013 draft picks C.J. McCollum and Alan Crabbe (the latter via Cleveland), plus center Mason Plumlee (acquired from Brooklyn).
“It starts up top,” Udonis Haslem said. “The guys up top, since I’ve been here, Coach Riley, Mr. Arison and the whole organization make it clear we want to win now. We’re not about three years, four years.”
If the Heat wins 49 games, it will have won 86 in its first two years since James left — just 11 wins fewer that the Cavaliers produced in four years after LeBron joined the Heat.
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Wade missed his second consecutive game with a sore back and neck sustained in a fall during the Lakers game Wednesday.
The Heat squandered all but one point of a 24-point lead in Sacramento on Friday night but emerged with a 112-106 win, thanks in part to a season-high 30 points from fill-in starter Gerald Green (all in the first three quarters), a big late jumper from Joe Johnson and huge three from Deng that pushed Miami’s lead to six with 46 seconds left.
Sun Sports couldn’t air part of Green’s postgame comments because he used expletives to describe his unhappiness with media coverage of his play.
“I just use that [expletive] as motivation, man,” he said. “Like the last two months, man, the media been killing me. So every day, I go to the gym at night, I run, I read y’all comments, and go back to the gym, read y’all comments, go right back to the gym.”