The long wait is over.
The postseason — the only season that matters for the two-time defending champion Heat — is finally here. The second-seeded team on the Eastern Conference’s side of the NBA’s 16-team playoff bracket, the Heat will play the seventh-seeded Charlotte Bobcats in the first round. The first game of the series will be at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena. The Bobcats, led by guard Kemba Walker and center Al Jefferson, finished the season 43-39.
The Heat enters the postseason with several concerns, including the cohesion of its rotation and the health of Dwyane Wade and Greg Oden. But the team couldn’t have asked for a more favorable matchup in the first round. After all, the Heat has never lost to the Bobcats since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Wade in Miami.
“One thing that we said all year is we knew coming into this season that if we’re going to win the championship, it’s going to be different than we’ve ever done it,” said Wade, who missed 28 games this season. “[The rotation] is no different. We’re going to have to figure it out. We know what each individual person on this team can bring.”
The Heat is projected to go with one of its more experienced lineup combinations to begin the playoffs: Wade, James and Bosh along with Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers. But that lineup has only played together once since Haslem was reinserted back into the lineup this month. On Wednesday against the 76ers, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra featured his 21st different starting lineup of the regular season.
“I just like that No. 40 [Haslem] is back in the lineup,” Wade said. “That was one thing. When he came back into the lineup, that made everyone a little more comfortable, putting him back in the rotation.”
It’s unclear how deep Spoelstra will go into his lineup for the playoffs. Usually, the Heat’s coach trims the rotation to eight or nine players. For now, pencil Ray Allen, Chris Andersen, Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis into the playoff mix. But that could change at some point during the postseason.
“It’s going to change up,” Wade said. “Sometimes it’s the matchups, and sometimes it’s guys just not playing well with certain lineups, and sometimes it’s just guys not playing well period. It’s a whole new season, so the lineup you see on Sunday might not be the lineup you see when we finish.”
Oden was in uniform on Wednesday for the first time since the Heat’s loss to the Pacers on March 26. The Heat’s reserve center has been out with back spasms, and, most recently, a stomach virus. Oden said he injured his back against the Trail Blazers the game before the Heat played in Indianapolis.
“Definitely tried to play through it, but it flared up and it took its time,” Oden said. “We put a lot of work into it and a lot of stretching, and we’re hoping that it’s right now.”
Oden is looking forward to contributing in the postseason and said he wanted to focus on his conditioning in the regular-season finale.
“Most of my mind-set is going to be focused on sprinting and worrying about making sure I remember the plays, and just trying to make sure I can do something and I’m ready when we play [Jefferson] on Sunday,” Oden said.
Oden played more than seven minutes in the second quarter on Wednesday, with his only statistic being one rebound.