Miami returned to the playoffs and had its best run at a championship in team history. The HEAT conquered the Orlando Magic, and came back in thrilling fashion to beat the New York Knicks in the Conference Semifinals, before falling to the eventual World Champion Chicago Bulls, 4-1, in the Conference Finals. The HEAT came into the playoffs following a franchise best 61 wins and a first place finish in the Atlantic Division.

FIRST ROUND (MIAMI-3, ORLANDO-2)
Game 1 - Apr. 24 (Miami 99, Orlando 64): Unfortunately for Orlando, Miami brought the momentum they gathered during the season into Game One. Miami finished the first quarter with the second largest first quarter lead in playoff history, 35- 10, (second to the Bucks' 26 on Mar. 30, 1970) and went on to crush the Orlando Magic, 99-64, in Miami. Miami came out strong in the first quarter, hitting 54.2 percent of their shots, led by Voshon Lenard who had 11 points in the quarter on 3-5 shooting from three-point land. Miami's defense kept the pressure on, limiting Orlando to only 30 first half points on 29.5 percent shooting from the floor, going into the half with a 49-30 lead. The second half was a continuation of the first, as Miami went on a 17-5 run to start the third quarter, building a 31-point lead and never looking back. Lenard led all scorers with 24 points and Alonzo Mourning swatted a game-high six shots, grabbed 11 boards and scored 12 points. Miami went up 1-0 in the best-of-five series.

Game 2 - Apr. 27 (Miami 104, Orlando 87):The HEAT continued its quest for the championship with another impressive victory over Orlando, 104-87, in Game Two in Miami. After a hard fought first quarter, Miami held on to a 20-18 lead. The HEAT went on a 20-1 run to start the second quarter. From there the HEAT's stifling defense kept the Magic in check. Miami had five players in double figures. Leading the way was Tim Hardaway with 20 points and a game-high 11 assists. Anfernee Hardaway threw down 26 points in a losing effort for Orlando. Miami takes a two-game lead in the series.

Game 3 - Apr. 29 (Orlando 88, Miami 75): In Game Three, Miami continued to roll until the third quarter when Orlando took advantage of the HEAT's poor shooting and handed Miami its first loss, 88-75 in Orlando. The HEAT jumped out to a 29-13 first quarter lead on a strong performance by Alonzo Mourning. However, Mourning picked up his third foul with 6:49 to go in the second, and with the HEAT leading 42-25 with 4:24 left in the quarter, the Magic went on a 17-0 run to close out the period tied with the HEAT, 42-42. In the third quarter, Orlando took control with the help of six HEAT turnovers and poor shooting (6-19 FGA, 31.6%) in the quarter. Miami committed eight turnovers and continued to shoot poorly from the field in the fourth quarter. Anfernee Hardaway had a spectacular night, scoring 42 points. The HEAT was led by Alonzo Mourning with 17 points and 17 boards.

Game 4 - May 1 (Orlando 99, Miami 91): Despite Miami's attempt to close out the series in four games against the injury riddled Orlando Magic, Anfernee Hardaway had other plans as he scored 41 points to lead the Magic to a 99-91 win in Orlando. Hardaway led the Magic with 18 first-quarter points and helped Orlando to a 27-25 first quarter lead. The Magic opened the second quarter on a 15-2 run and built a 15-point lead. Miami's poor shooting accounted for a dismal 14-point second quarter as the HEAT hit only 4-12 FGA (33.3%). The third quarter was a reversal of the second with the HEAT going on a 14-5 run and closing the lead to five points, 58-53, with 6:24 to go in the third. Miami tried to spark a fourth quarter rally with Tim Hardaway hitting two consecutive three-pointers to pull the HEAT within five, 94-89, with 2:17 left. However, that was all the HEAT had left as Orlando stayed alive and tied the series 2-2. The HEAT was led by Alonzo Mourning who had 23 points.

Game 5 - May 4 (Miami 91, Orlando 83): Game Five was the battle to see who would advance to the semifinals and who would go home for the summer. The game lived up to the war that both teams promised. In a hard fought first quarter, Miami built a six-point lead, 12-6, midway through. Both teams struggled from the field in the second quarter, as Miami hit only 7-23 (30.4%) FGA and Orlando hit only 4-16 (25.0%) FGA. The HEAT went into the half leading by seven, 41-34. The third quarter saw Voshon Lenard get hot, hitting all five of his field goal attempts. His shooting helped Miami go on a 11-1 run midway through the third and build a 17-point margin, 66-49. The Magic were not going to make it easy on Miami as Nick Anderson went on a fourth quarter shooting spree that pulled them with in six, 77-71, with 6:30 to play. From that point it was a battle to the end. With the HEAT leading by three, 86-83, with just 14.1 seconds left in the game, Tim Hardaway nailed a clutch three-pointer that sealed the 91-83 Miami victory. Miami was led in scoring by Alonzo Mourning who had 22 points and snared 12 boards. Anfernee Hardaway had 33 points in Orlando's losing effort. The victory allowed Miami to advance to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, a feat no previous HEAT team ever accomplished.

EASTERN CONFERENCE
SEMIFINALS (MIAMI-4, NEW YORK-3)

Game 1 - May 7 (New York 88, Miami 79): Game One of the Conference Semifinals was a hard fought battle that foreshadowed a tough series for both Miami and New York. The evenly matched division rivals pounded away at one another, but New York pulled away defeating the HEAT, 88-79, in Miami. There were eight ties in the first half that ended with the HEAT leading 39-37 despite hitting only 2-11 (18.2%) three-pointers and 1-4 (25.0%) from the free throw line. The third quarter proved to be Miami's demise as it hit only 3-16 shots (18.8%) from the field, 1-8 (12.5%) from behind the three-point arc and only 9-14 (64.3%) from the charity stripe. The Knicks capitalized on Miami's poor shooting going on a 16-0 run midway through the third quarter and built an eight-point lead. The HEAT tried to rally in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to four points, 52-48, on a strong performance by Alonzo Mourning, who scored 10 points in the first half of the fourth quarter. Tim Hardaway's 21 points and a game-high six assists were overshadowed by Allan Houston's 27 points for New York. The Knicks lead the series, 1-0.

Game 2 - May 9 (Miami 88, New York 84): Despite Miami's slow start in the first quarter, Tim Hardaway emerged to lead the HEAT to victory, 88-84, and tied the series, 1-1. The Knicks built a 10-point margin, 23-13, in the first quarter before Hardaway's hot hand contributed to Miami's surge midway through the second quarter. The HEAT went on an 8-0 run at the 6:42 mark that helped them pull within two points, 37-25. Hardaway hit Miami's final 13 points of the quarter and helped build a sixpoint lead going into the half, 48-42. The HEAT came out strong in the third, but New York tightened its defense and started hitting shots. The Knicks went on a 13-0 run and cut the HEAT lead to two points, 69-67. The fourth quarter proved to be a defensive struggle, but New York could not convert from the field, hitting only 4-21 (19.0%) FGA. Then with 1:13 to play and the HEAT down by one, Hardaway came through, as he did all night, hitting a running jumper to put Miami back in the lead, 85- 84. Hardaway led all scorers with a playoff career-high and HEAT playoff high 34 points to go along with his four assists and eight boards.

Game 3 - May 11 (New York 77, Miami 73): Miami came into Game Three at Madison Square Garden with momentum on its side after its hard- fought victory on May 9. However, New York would not disappoint the home crowd as it put away the HEAT, 77-73. The HEAT built a 12-point first quarter lead, 24-12, on the hot three-point shooting of Voshon Lenard, who tied a HEAT playoff record for three-pointers in a quarter with four. The second quarter turned into a defensive battle as both teams struggled from the field. The HEAT was able to keep its lead throughout the quarter, due to the strong inside play of Alonzo Mourning who had eight points in the quarter. The third quarter was New York's for the taking, as the HEAT could not convert from the field, hitting only 6-17 (35.3%) FGA for the quarter. The Knicks went on a 9-0 run at the beginning of the third to cut the lead to one, 59-58. Miami's dismal shooting got even worse in the fourth quarter, as it connected on only 3-14 (21.4%) from the field. The HEAT were able to keep pace with the Knicks thanks in part to New York's own poor shooting 5-13 (38.5%) FGA. With Miami trailing by three, 76-73, with 13.4 seconds remaining, they got the ball back on Patrick Ewing's turnover. Tim Hardaway tried to get a game-tying three off with 2.9 seconds to go, but Ewing came through with a block. Ewing led all scorers with 25 points, Lenard pitched in with 22 points for the HEAT which trailed, 2-1.

Game 4 - May 12 (New York 89, Miami 76): Although Game Four began as a grudge match, Miami stumbled from the floor enabling the Knicks to run away with an 89-76 victory in New York and a 3-1 series lead. Both the HEAT and the Knicks came out strong in the first quarter, with no more than three points separating them in the first. The quarter ended with the Knicks holding a slim 23-22 lead. The second quarter turned out to be Miami's demise as the HEAT were able to muster only 14 points in the quarter on 3-13 (23.1%) FGA and just 8-15 (53.3%) FTA. The Knicks on the other hand hit 9-15 (60.0%) from the field and 9-11 (81.8%) from the charity stripe, which helped it to cruise into the half leading by 15, 51-36. The second half saw the HEAT shooting problems escalate, as Miami was only able to convert on 13-33 (39.4%) FGA and 9-15 (60.0%) FTA in the second half. The HEAT also committed 12 turnovers in the second half which led to 11 Knick points. John Starks led all scorers with 21 points, Tim Hardaway pitched in 14 points in the HEAT loss.

Game 5 - May 14 (Miami 96, New York 81): Trying hard to get back into the series, Miami stepped up and earned a hardfought victory, 96-81, in Game Five to make the series 3-2 in favor of New York. Miami broke out early in this contest going on a 13-2 run to start the game. New York clawed its way back going on a 10-1 run midway through the first, cutting the lead to two. The quarter ended with the Knicks holding a one point edge, 22-21. The second quarter saw neither team taking control as both teams shot poorly from the field. Miami hit only 4-19 (21.1%) FGA and New York converted only 5-15 (33.3%) FGA in the second. Thanks to Tim Hardaway's three-pointer with 17.4 points remaining, the HEAT had a 35-34 lead at the half. The third quarter saw Miami break tradition in the series by outscoring the Knicks, 31-25, in the quarter. The efforts of Voshon Lenard and Dan Majerle helped the HEAT build a 10- point lead, 51-41, in the quarter. Miami cruised into the quarter break, leading by seven, 66-59. The fourth quarter saw New York make a run at the HEAT thanks to John Starks' strong play. Miami was able to answer back with clutch three pointers from Majerle and Lenard. With 6:32 remaining, the HEAT went on a 17-2 scoring run, building a 17- point lead with under two minutes to play, 86-69. With 1:53 to go in the game, New York's frustrations came to a head as Charlie Ward undercut P.J. Brown during a successful Hardaway free throw. Brown subsequently threw Ward to the floor. At that point both players were ejected and four-to-six New York players approached the melee. Subsequently, Starks was also ejected from the game. After everything settled down, the HEAT walked away with a well deserved 96-81 victory.

Game 6 - May 16 (Miami 95, New York 90): Miami went into hostile Madison Square Garden for Game Six without P.J. Brown, who was serving a two-game league suspension for his part in the altercation with Charlie Ward in Game 5. The Knicks were also working with a smaller roster due to one-game suspensions being served by Charlie Ward, Patrick Ewing and Allan Houston for their part in that same altercation. It was a hard fought battle but Miami came out on top, 95-90. The Knicks came out strong in the first quarter connecting on 12-21 (57.1%) of their shots, building a 10-point lead at the end of the quarter (27-17). The second quarter saw the HEAT widdle away at the Knicks 10-point lead. However, Charles Oakley helped preserve the Knicks lead going into the half (44-40) with his 13- point contribution. In the third quarter Miami shot the ball poorly, hitting only 7-18 (38.9%) shots. By the end of the third frame, Ike Austin and Alonzo Mourning were able to take the ball hard inside, hitting high percentage shots and drawing fouls, thus allowing the HEAT to pull within two (64-66) with one quarter to go. The fourth quarter saw Miami take control. The HEAT went on a 9-0 run midway through the fourth with solid shooting by Tim Hardaway and pulled away with the victory. Miami was paced in scoring by Mourning with 28 points and a team-high nine boards.

Game 7 - May 18 (Miami 101, New York 90): In the seventh and deciding game of this series, Miami looked to put its name in the NBA playoff record books as only the sixth team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series. The HEAT were looking to accomplish this feat in Miami without P.J. Brown, who was sitting out the second game of his two-game suspension. The Knicks were playing without John Starks and Larry Johnson, who were also suspended for this game for their part in the altercation that took place in Game Five. The HEAT came out like a team on a mission, playing strong defense and putting the ball in the hole on the offensive end. The HEAT cruised into the quarter break with an 11-point lead, 25-14. Miami's stiff defense continued in the second quarter, holding the Knicks to just 18 points landing Miami a 49- 32 halftime lead. The third quarter saw the Knicks shoot the ball well, hitting 10-19 (52.6%) FGA. They were able to widdle the HEAT's lead down to eight points, 55-47, with 5:24 to go in the quarter. Tim Hardaway's scoring effort helped Miami build a 17- point cushion going into the final period, 71-54. Miami answered a Knick attack with timely shots by Mourning, Mashburn and Hardaway. The HEAT relied on its free-throw shooting to help preserve the victory, 101-90. For the game the HEAT was paced in scoring by Hardaway, who had a HEAT playoff-high 38 points, a game-high seven assists and a gamehigh five steals. The win allowed Miami to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals to face the Chicago Bulls.

EASTERN CONFERENCE
FINALS (CHICAGO-4, MIAMI-1)

Game 1, May 20 (Chicago 84, Miami 77): The Miami HEAT enter the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals in Chicago with hopes of finally defeating the defending champions. Miami, unsuccessful against the Bulls in the two previous years, continued to struggle in this game, falling 84-77, on Tuesday, May 20. The first quarter saw the HEAT come out very intense. The quarter ended with the HEAT leading, 25-17. The second quarter opened with the HEAT going on a 9-2 run, opening up a 15-point lead, 34-19. The HEAT went into the half with a 49-38 lead. The only concern for the HEAT going into the second half were Voshon Lenard's three personal fouls. The third quarter saw the Bulls come out strong, going on a 14-4 run at the 8:48 mark of the third, opening a 54-45 lead. Miami was able to withstand the Bulls run with timely shooting by Tim Hardaway. Miami finished the third quarter with a 66-61 edge. The fourth quarter got ugly for the HEAT, hitting only 3-13 (23.1%) FGA and 4-13 (30.8%) FTA on their way to just 11 points. Chicago took the lead with 3:26 to play when Ron Harper hit a three-pointer to put the Bulls ahead for good, 75-73. Miami could not regain any momentum, as it committed three costly turnovers within the last 3:30 of the game, which helped the Bulls come away with a victory. Michael Jordan led all scorers with 37 points, and Alonzo Mourning finished with 21 points in the losing effort.

Game 2 - May 22 (Chicago 75, Miami 68): Poor shooting handicapped the HEAT in Game Two at Chicago, as the Bulls won, 75-68, on Thursday, May 22, for a 2-0 series lead. The HEAT shot off the mark in the first quarter, connecting on only 5-20 (25.0%) FGA. The HEAT's poor shooting allowed the Bulls to go on a 12-0 run at the 7:52 mark of the first quarter, and Miami trailed by 10-points after one period, 22-12. The second quarter saw the Bulls' shooting go sour, as they hit only 6-18 (33.3%) FGA. The half ended with the HEAT trailing, 39-29. The third quarter started with the HEAT going on a 10-2 run, cutting the lead to two, 41-39, midway through the third quarter. However, timely shooting by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, along with Miami's inability to convert on the offensive end, helped the Bulls maintain the lead in a low scoring third quarter, 51-45. Isaac Austin sparked the HEAT attack in the fourth, scoring eight points that cut the Bulls lead to one, 55-54, midway through the fourth quarter. Again, Miami was unable to convert on the offensive end the rest of the game. Ron Harper hit a clutch three-pointer with 3:47 to play that helped Chicago put the game out of range in this low scoring affair. Jordan and Pippen each had 23 points for Chicago. Miami was led by Tim Hardaway with 15 points and team-high five assists.

Game 3 - May 24 (Chicago 98, Miami 74): The first quarter of Game Three was played almost as poor as Game Two, with both the HEAT and Bulls struggling from the field. However, the HEAT committed six turnovers in the first quarter that led to seven Chicago points, allowing the Bulls to hold a 19-15 lead at the end of the first. That is all the Bulls needed to earn a victory, 98- 74, on Saturday, May 24, in Miami and take a 3-0 series lead. The second quarter saw the Bulls go on a 9-0 run at the 9:15 mark, helping them build a 13-point lead, 36-23. The Bulls led going into halftime, 47-34. The third quarter saw Miami's turnover problem go from bad to worse, as they committed 11 turnovers that led to 19 Chicago points. The Bulls were able to put this game out of reach in the third quarter when they went on an 11-0 run at the 5:15 mark, building their lead to 27 points, 68-41. Miami was paced in scoring by Voshon Lenard with 14 points. The Bulls' Michael Jordan led all scorers with 34 points and grabbed eight boards.

Game 4 - May 26 (Miami 87, Chicago 80): The HEAT needed a win to get back on track and they started Game Four on a strong note, keeping the turnovers low and capitalizing on the Bulls' turnovers. The HEAT was able to set the pace throughout the game, earning their first playoff win against Chicago in franchise history, 87-80, on Monday, May 26, in Miami. The series was now 3-1 in favor a Chicago. The HEAT went into the second quarter with a 24-19 lead but saw the Bulls tie the game at 30- 30 midway through the period. Miami countered with a 17-1 run, led by Tim Hardaway who accounted for 10 of the HEAT's 17 points. The half ended with the HEAT in control with a 16-point lead, 47-31. Miami came out strong in the third quarter, building their lead to 21 at the 8:49 mark, 56-35. At that point the Bulls came to life, going on a 20-5 run the remainder of the quarter. The Bulls cut the HEAT's lead to four points, 61-57, going into the fourth quarter. Thanks to timely shots by Jamal Mashburn, the HEAT was able to maintain its four-point edge going into the final period. The fourth quarter saw Jordan take over for the Bulls, scoring 20 of the Bulls' 23 fourth-quarter points, but the HEAT was able to counter with a solid team effort. Hardaway finished the day with a team-high 25 points and game-high seven assists. Alonzo Mourning, who guaranteed a HEAT victory, contributed 18 points and a game-high 14 boards. The Bulls were paced in scoring by Michael Jordan, who finished with 29 points on 9-35 (25.7%) shooting.

Game 5 - May 28 (Chicago 100, Miami 87): The Bulls enter Game Five trying to repeat their winning performance of Game Four, but Chicago's defense wouldn't allow it. The Bulls put out the HEAT's flame with a 100-87 victory on Wednesday, May 28, to win the series 4-1. Chicago started the game on a 16-2 run, led by Michael Jordan who scored eight of his 15 first quarter points during that opening stretch. Miami tried to rebound from their poor start, but trailed at the end of one quarter, 33-19. In the second quarter, Miami's shooting rebounded as they hit 9-18 (50.0%) from the floor. Chicago continued to hit its shots and was able to score inside, getting 14 of its 31 secondquarter points in the paint. The half ended with the HEAT trailing by 14, 64-50. Miami tried to cut into Chicago's lead in the third but poor shooting, 5-20 (25.0%) FGA, and the Bulls ability to get points inside did not allow Miami to cut the lead to less than 10 points. The third quarter ended with Chicago holding a 15-point lead, 80-65. Jamal Mashburn sparked the HEAT in the fourth with 12 points, but that was all the HEAT could muster as Chicago's defense stiffened in the middle. The loss put a finish to the HEAT's record-setting season and playoff run. Jordan led the championship-bound Bulls with 28 points. Miami was led in scoring by Tim Hardaway, who tallied 27 points and a team-high tying five assists.