And now the real season begins.
Those 66 regular-season victories? Window dressings. No, not even that. Even less. More like the dust and cobwebs you clean out of the window dressings when time and neglect and old things begin to obscure the view. That is exactly what this magnificent season will become if the Heat cannot win 16 more games.
Starting Sunday, the Heat begins the 2013 playoffs at AmericanAirlines Arena with Game 1 of its first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks. Conventional wisdom? Milwaukee is the deer in the headlights, and the Heat is the locomotive burning down the tracks.
Window dressing of a different kind, more or less.
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For perspective, gambling house Bovada recently set the Heat as a 5-to-8 favorite to win the title. Meanwhile, Milwaukee was a 500-to-1 underdog, or in this case, underdeer. As Heat coach Erik Spoelstra so succinctly put it on Saturday after practice, “bring it.”
But the Heat isn’t discounting the Bucks even if everyone else is already looking forward to a second-round series between either the Nets or the Bulls. Miami, the defending champions, cruised through its first-round series last season against the New York Knicks, but the Bucks appear to offer a slightly more difficult challenge.
After all, the Heat lost a game to the Bucks this season and was 1-2 against Milwaukee last season.
“Everybody that knows us, we’ve been conditioned now to learn how to live in the moment, and that started three years ago,” Spoelstra said. “Because everybody gets bored with whatever the current story line is, and then they’re onto the next story line.
“The only thing we’re thinking about is not even this series — we’re not thinking about this series — we’re thinking about tomorrow night. That’s it.”
So, the business of trying to repeat, that won’t be uttered by anyone on the team until, perhaps, June. But Heat center Udonis Haslem did provide some perspective on the difficult challenge of winning back-to-back titles on the night the regular-season ended.
After the Heat won its first championship in 2006, Haslem said he was too young understand the difficulty of winning back-to-back titles. After going through that experience, he knows what to expect with this title defense.
“It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, to come back and defend a title and try to do it again,” Haslem said. “So, understanding that now, cherishing that one title more than I did a couple years ago, I just want to do it again. I pretty much got a good idea since of what we’re up against.”
And if Haslem forgets, the Heat’s playoff marketing gimmicks will help remind him. On the Heat’s official website, a countdown of the 16 victories it takes to win a title is displayed on the homepage. At the arena, the Heat’s brash confidence will be a little more pronounced. From an official press release:
“Outside and above the main entrance of AmericanAirlines Arena, 16 basketball hoops will be wrapped in white representing a countdown of the total number of games needed to win the 2013 NBA Championship. The day following each Heat playoff win, one White Hot Heat Hoop will be removed and taken to an undisclosed location. HEAT fans will have to follow the team on Twitter — @MiamiHEAT — as each hoop location will be announced exclusively on Twitter.
“Fans will be encouraged to find the White Hot HEAT Hoop, take a photo with it and tweet their photo using the hash-tag #WhiteHotHoop16.”
Of course, pictures of people dunking on these hidden, Easter-egg like basketball goals might be more appropriate.
While 16 unwrapped basketball goals outside the arena might not be the best example of the Spoelstra “live in the present” ideology, it sounds like fun. After struggling through the playoffs last season, this postseason begins with an entirely different feel. But here’s the reality of it. The Heat knows that one loss can change all of that.
“Momentum is so important in the playoffs,” forward Shane Battier said. “You lose a game and you’re second-guessing everything and the world is coming to an end and the other team has this team figured out.”