MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — Things have changed quite a bit for the Miami Heat in a little less than a year. Last season, they were the hunters looking to finally climb the proverbial mountain to a NBA Championship.
This year, the Heat has become the hunted and the Heat are trying to enter into some very rare company. Only four franchises since 1969 have won back-to-back NBA championships. Miami had a shot a few seasons ago, but the title defense went up in smoke.
But this year, the Heat have done something most champions can’t claim. With 66 wins under their belt, the Heat have bettered their record from a season ago and looked like the most dominating team in the NBA heading into the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“It’s a small group to win back to back because you have to have that same resilience,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “We had resilience last year in that no matter what happened, we were going to get through it. Some way, somehow, we were going to win that championship. Do we have that same resilience again? That’s the unknown.”
So far, the Heat look like they have the answer to that unknown. During the Heat’s 27 game winning streak, many times the team was down and still they found a way to get the most of their roster and come back to win.
The roster, which includes the Big Three of LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade has been augmented with the additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Plus, Shane Battier is more comfortable in his role and Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole continue to improve.
The team won 40 times by double figures, then finished the regular season with an eight-game winning streak — the longest current run in the NBA — despite being without Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh for many of those games.
James missed time with a right hamstring strain, which he said provided him with a break that he didn’t even know he needed. He even likened a few days without basketball to a few days without fiancee Savannah Brinson.
“When you’re around it every day, every single day for the last 2½ years, you need something to kind of make you miss it, love it again,” James said. “It’s like being around your wife every day. You go on a road trip for a few days and you love her again and miss her so much when you see her. I’m excited. This postseason, I’m excited. I got an opportunity to be away from the game, not play it as much as I’m accustomed to going down the stretch. I guess basketball is like Savannah in that case.”
James spent nine years chasing ring No. 1, a quest that could be best described as all-consuming. Now that he has a title, he sees no reason to change his playoff approach.
“I’m going in with the same mindset as I had last year, trying to win it for the first time,” James said. “At this point everyone’s record is thrown out the window. We’re all 0-0, all 16 teams, both conferences. So you know, we look forward to the challenge, man. It’s going to be fun.”
Oddsmakers list the Heat as huge favorites in these playoffs. Phil Jackson, he of the 11 championship rings as a coach, tweeted on Friday that he’s “waiting to see who can challenge the Heat,” and former NBA coach Flip Saunders said earlier this week that he doesn’t “see anyone challenging them.”
Spoelstra is urging his team to ignore all the talk of an assumed June coronation. That’s why he began planting those seeds, urging the Heat to look ahead and not back at last year’s title, before this season even started.
“We wanted to make sure that we had a growth mindset, that we’re trying to get better and not just rest on last year’s success — because that’s what it is, ultimately. It’s last year,” Spoelstra said. “And it never is the same. If you stay the same and everybody else improves, it won’t be enough. And that’s a danger sometimes with success, how you manage it.”
The Lakers franchise, both in Minnesota and Los Angeles, has gone back-to-back multiple times, as have the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics. The Detroit Pistons did it once, as did the Houston Rockets. No other NBA club has pulled it off.
Miami’s chance in 2007 ended amid an injury-riddled regular season and then a first-round sweep.
“Everybody’s focus was to win this year,” said Ray Allen, who was part of Boston’s attempt to go back-to-back in 2009 and signed with the Heat last summer. “Not one guy said anything about last year, what they did. That’s something that always encouraged me. I was very surprised, because nobody was resting on what they had just done.”
And that’s exactly what Spoelstra wanted.
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)