Heat finding stride -- or simply playing possum?
Last summer, LeBron James went on TV to tell the world where he was taking his talents for the upcoming NBA season.
And before the season started, the Heat introduced James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to Miami in a Rock 'n Jock, dry ice smoke-spewing, concert-like setting. It was the kind of celebration usually reserved for after a championship is won, not before.
Undoubtedly, the Heat were expected to be great this season, and they've gotten to that point.
But the greatness has only come recently.
The Heat again showed that the NBA's regular season just isn't that important. They struggled at a number of points along the way, before becoming the latest example of a team being able to pull off the NBA cliché and "flip the switch."
And now, in the NBA Finals against Dallas, the Heat are trying to prove they are the best team in the league. After a 95-93 loss on Thursday night, the series is tied at one game apiece.
So, why is it, with James, Wade and Bosh, three premier players, the Heat waited until the playoffs to establish themselves as the top team in the NBA?
"We went through highs and lows, the ebb and flow of the season," Wade said. "Obviously, ideally we would have loved to have come out and been at our best in Game 1. We [weren't]. No excuses. We [weren't] the team we are today. We understood it was going to take time. It took adversity for this team to become more of a unit and not just good individual players."
Here's how much the Heat have changed as the season went along:
They started the year 9-8. They won 22 of their next 23 games. They lost five of their next six games. Then, there was a five-game losing streak starting Feb. 27, before the Heat finished the season on a four-game winning streak.
"A lot of times when you get closer and closer to the finish [of the regular season], the sense of urgency picks up and the habits you form click," said ESPN analyst and former NBA player Mark Jackson. "That's what happens. They were looking forward to the playoffs and stopping everything that was being said about them."
What was being said can essentially be boiled down to the fact that they should have been better -- much more consistently.
"I mean, it's tough," Bosh said. "You learn a lot about yourself. You learn about yourself in tough situations. We're at a point where we're more mature as players."
That maturity has manifested itself in a phenomenal playoff run. The Heat needed just five games to beat the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round. They dominated Boston in five games in the second round and then took down the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in five games to earn the trip to a championship matchup with Dallas.
And what they did is not out of the ordinary.
The 2010 Lakers went 4-7 in their last 11 regular-season games and went on to win the championship, never needing seven games in any playoff series until the Finals to win it all.
When the Magic made the Finals in 2009, they finished the regular season 4-6 and lost their first playoff game against the 76ers before making it all the way through the Eastern Conference.
The 2007 Spurs lost their last three regular-season games and their first of the playoffs before going on to the title. Even the 2005 Spurs went 4-4 down the stretch and then lost a first-round playoff game. They rallied to win the title in seven games against Detroit.
Even going back to the 2002 championship, the Lakers went 5-3 in their last eight games and were the No. 3 seed, despite the fact most everyone expected them to win it all. Well, coach Phil Jackson brought out his collection of championship rings and inspired his team's playoff run.
Basically when a team has talent -- like the Heat -- it's only a matter of time before they feel it necessary to start playing well. Flip of the switch ... or urgency?
"I wouldn't go with flip of switch," ESPN play-by-play announcer Mike Breen said of the Heat. "They had stretches where they were incredible. Defensively they were dominant. We knew it would be a process from the beginning."
The regular season isn't where championships are won. However, the regular season and its importance are definitely in question. The Spurs were Western Conference's top team in the regular season but were eliminated in the first round by Memphis. Dallas, the No. 2 seed in the West, beat the fourth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in the conference finals.
"We felt that we've built up a lot of solid habits during the course of the year," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "All these things are paramount once you get to the postseason and play against the best competition."
And that's when everything starts to count. The playoffs, not the regular season, are the most important thing.
"You can't play hard on every possession," Breen said. "It's almost impossible to do that in the regular season. You can't expect that same passion in the regular season."