Swept Up in Success
Wicked Witch of the East makes history
May 19 -- It's almost difficult to believe it's never happened before. Not even to the '95-96 Bulls, who won an NBA record 72 games. Nor to the '65-66 Celtics, who captured an unfathomable eight titles in a row.
In conquering the New Jersey Nets in the First Round and the Washington Wizards in the Conference Semifinals of the 2005 NBA Playoffs, the Miami Heat became the first team to complete postseason sweeps of the two teams it also swept during the regular season.
The Heat won all four of their regular season contests with Washington by an average of 12.5 points and their four postseason games with the Nets by 12.8 points. They've been nothing less than stellar in 2004-05, which is a far cry from last season, when they finished a pedestrian 42-40.
Much of the credit for the team's 17-game turnaround this season, which included an Eastern Conference-best 59-23 regular season record, can be given to newly acquired center Shaquille O'Neal, who won three titles during his tenure with the Lakers.
"When you take Shaquille O'Neal from the West and then bring him to the East, you know, nine times out of 10 you can say that the East is stronger," Allen Iverson told the Rocky Mountain News after pairing with O'Neal in the All-Star Game. "It's not just his scoring or his passing ability or his rebounding or anything like that. It's his presence.
"When you've got a guy on the floor and so many people give him that much attention, it just makes the game easier for you. He's the easiest person in the world to play with."
Said Wizards center Brendan Haywood, whom O'Neal dominated for 40 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks is a Dec. 13 regular season loss:
“When you have Shaquille O’Neal on the other side, it makes things hard to stop. He gets them good shots. Sometimes, just his presence is enough to allow guys, like Dwyane Wade, to get easy lanes to drive."
Wade has clearly benefited from playing alongside O'Neal. His regular season numbers soared from his rookie year, and in the playoffs, Wade's been the team MVP, averaging more than 25 points, six rebounds and eight assists and shooting over 50 percent in each series. In NBA history, only Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Bob Cousy have accomplished such a feat.
What's even more impressive about Wade's performance is that he's done it even without the presence of Shaq to lean on. When O'Neal was sidelined for the second half of the Washington series with a bruised thigh, "Flash," as O'Neal refers to him, tallied 31 points and nine rebounds in Game 3 and 42 points in Game 4.
If O'Neal can get himself healthy and back in the lineup throughout the rest of the course of the postseason, the combination obviously will be a difficult one to overcome.
"They built this team for a championship run," said Washington guard Gilbert Arenas, whose team has lost 12 in a row to the Heat over the course of two seasons. "They have all the elements."
Now the question is whether or not the Heat can make further history in the Eastern Conference Finals. Another four-and-out would tie the squad for the record of most consecutive postseason games won, set by the 1999 NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs with 12.
Featuring a lineup that included David Robinson, a younger Tim Duncan and a then active Sean Elliot and Avery Johnson, the Spurs' streak began in Game 3 of the First Round and ended in Game 3 of The Finals. Along the way, they swept the Lakers in the Conference Semifinals and the Trail Blazers in the West Finals before beating New York 4-1 in The Finals.