2003-04: Dwyane Wade Leads The HEAT Back To The Playoffs
On June 26, 2003 the HEAT selected guard Dwyane Wade from Marquette University with the fifth pick of the 2003 NBA Draft and selected forward Jerome Beasley from the University of North Dakota in the second round with the 33rd pick.
By September 4th the HEAT had signed both players along with free agent forward Lamar Odom and free agent guard Rafer Alston.
On October 24 Pat Riley stepped down from the Head Coach position to focus more as the team President. As a result Assistant Head Coach Stan Van Gundy was elevated to the position, becoming the fifth head coach in franchise history.
And so the 2003-04 season began.
It marked Stan Van Gundy’s debut as the head coach and began with a rocky 0-7 record, which only worsened as the young team struggled 5-15 at a point. But they didn’t give up. They fought hard and began to develop by the second half of the season. Improving on every game, they won 18 of their last 19 home games. Their last loss at home came on March 2 versus Toronto. The 18 game winning streak was the longest in the NBA during the season. They also set an NBA best 17-4 record over the final 21 games and ended the season with a 42-40 record. The HEAT became the first team in NBA history to be 11 games under .500 during the month of March and finish the season with a winning record. This earned them respect and propelled them into their 9th playoffs appearance.
One of the many standouts of the season was Lamar Odom, who played power forward for the first time in his career. He revived his NBA career by averaging 17.1 points, and a career and franchise high 9.7 rebounds. He also dropped 61 3-pointers and had 4.1 assists in a career-high 80 games.
In the first round of the playoffs, the HEAT beat the Hornets in seven games and took the Pacers to Game Six in a close contest where they lost 73-70 and ended their home game winning streak.
This not only exceeded the team’s expectations, but many personal ones as well. Stan Van Gundy became the first coach in HEAT history to win his first playoff game in his first season coaching the team. Rafer Alston, the only HEAT player to have played in all 82 regular season games, scored his first playoff points of his career on April 18, 2004 while dropping 13 against the New Orleans Hornets. Caron Butler’s 28 steals in the 2004 playoffs set a franchise record. Lamar Odom helped the team by averaging a team-high 16.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists while playing a team-high 39.3 minutes a game.
Dwyane Wade had a breakthrough season. His 16.2 points per game average during the regular season was the best rookie scoring in HEAT franchise history. His 27 points on 5/2/04 against the New Orleans Hornets was the highest scoring playoff game for a HEAT rookie in franchise history. He is also the first rookie since Arvydas Sabonis (1995-96 season) to record four 20+ point games in the same playoff series. Wade also joined Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James in the Got Milk? NBA All-Rookie First Team on April 27, having received 56 points each. And undrafted rookie Udonis Haslem made Second Team with 21 points.