While the rest of the NBA community is busy speculating about the future of LeBron James and how the Heat plans to navigate the new salary cap, Pat Riley is thinking long-term about how special the run of this Heat team can become.
Speaking with reporters at the Heat’s “Family Fest” on Sunday, Riley pointed to models of success the NBA considers some the best in its history as the ultimate goal for the Heat while also reminding the city to enjoy this “special time.”
“I just want to keep helping them, keep bringing in more pieces that are going to complement them and hope we can have one of those 10-year rides, you know,” Riley said. “You think about every team, through the Celtics in the ’60s and the Lakers in the ’80s and the Bulls and then again the Spurs, those guys have been together eight, nine, 10 years and if we can keep this group together for eight, nine, 10 years, then we’re all going to have some fun.”
And then a piece of advice.
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“So, don’t ever take it for granted,” he said.
Already this season the Heat has won 27 games in a row, the most in franchise history and the second most in the history of the NBA. Now the team is on the verge of another milestone. A victory Tuesday against the Milwaukee Bucks would give the Heat 61 victories, which would tie the franchise’s record for a single season.
As an added element of intrigue, the game possibly could be a preview of the first round of the playoffs. The Bucks hold the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings, which aligns them with the Heat.
In his former role as coach, Riley said he would be stressing out this time of year and staying up until the early hours of the morning to prepare his team for the postseason. But that was a former life. Now, it’s Erik Spoelstra’s time to worry constantly, and Riley says he’s “living the ultimate dream.”
“You can sleep at night now,” Riley said. “Spo texted me at 3 a.m. in the morning and said, ‘I’m jealous,’ so it’s a reversal of what used to happen. And he gets up at 5 a.m. now and goes to Dunkin’ Donuts and I don’t.
“I get up at 11 o’clock and walk into the office with Andy [Elisburg] and Nick [Arison] and we sit down and talk about … nothing. We’re just going to go watch this team win. But all kidding aside, it’s just a very special time for me and Micky [Arison] and everyone in this city, so I just want to keep this team healthy, and in another six games this team is going to be ready to get after it another way.”
With six games remaining in the regular season, surpassing the Heat’s 1996-97 record for victories in a single season is within easy reach, but the Heat isn’t going to risk properly preparing for the playoffs to shatter the mark. To be sure, the team has bigger goals. Dwyane Wade, who has rested a sore right knee for four consecutive games, isn’t expected to play against the Bucks, and Chris Bosh could also be withheld from the lineup. Bosh missed Saturday’s victory against the 76ers as a precaution.
“When I feel it, I’ll get back on the court,” Wade said. “Obviously, I want to play, but I just have to make sure that I’m right. … If you’re injured, you got to get healthy.
“A lot of people think the Heat are just resting but, you know, we play a lot of games this season, and we got guys banged up at certain times with different elements. So, we got to get them healthy just like other teams have done. It just so happens that we’re able to do it at the end of the year.
“We took care of business and we were able to say, ‘OK, we have these injuries, let’s just try to take care of them and be smart.’”
Although James admitted on Saturday night that he wasn’t even aware of the team’s win total until he glanced at a boxscore after the game and noticed the number “60” staring him the face, he acknowledged that reaching that plateau is a notable accomplishment.
“As a team, we didn’t acknowledge it,” James said. “I don’t even know if we knew until we looked at the stat sheet, but it’s huge. It’s a select company, and we should be very privileged to be a part of this team, be a part of this franchise and to go into that 60-win category.”
For longtime fans of the Heat such as forward Udonis Haslem, a Miami native, eclipsing the 1996-97 squad, which featured Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning, would be a thrill.
“It would mean a heck of lot,” Haslem said. “That was a heck of a team, and I remember watching those guys play and they really, really defended and the played hard every single night, so that’s a heck of a team to surpass.
“Those are my guys and I look up to those guys, so even if I have an opportunity to surpass those guys, I’m still going to look up to those guys for what they’ve done for the Miami Heat and for the city.”