2004-05: Mixing Diesel with HEAT

Wade shows a ‘Flash’ of Brilliance

Just two seasons removed from its 25-57 record, it didn’t take long for the HEAT to put the magic back into the Magic City – thanks to the acquisition of Shaquille O’Neal and the emergence of newly monikered ‘Flash’, sophomore sensation Dwyane Wade.

Just three weeks after drafting Dorell Wright in the first round of the 2004 NBA Draft, making him the first high school player taken by Miami in its 17-year history, HEAT President Pat Riley and General Manger Randy Pfund orchestrated one of the most historic trades in NBA history. On July 14, O’Neal was acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and a future first round draft pick.

The 2004-05 season also marked the emergence of Wade, as the second-year pro stepped out of the shadows of fellow 2003 draft picks LeBron James and Carmello Anthony and emerged as one of the NBA’s premier players.

But with 11 new faces on the HEAT roster, Head Coach Stan Van Gundy had his work cut out for him – quickly molding the HEAT into a championship contender. And it didn’t take long for the players to accept the coach’s philosophy.

Despite starting the season with a 10-6 record and losing games at the AmericanAirlines Arena against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers and Toronto Raptors – teams that finished the season a combined 47 games under .500 – the HEAT got things turned around with the help of sharp-shooting Damon Jones.

On December 6, the journey man from the University of Houston, on his ninth NBA team in seven years, was placed into the starting lineup. He shot 43 percent (47-of-109) during the HEAT’s franchise-record 14-game winning streak.

Miami wrapped up December going 14-1, concluding the month with an 89-78 win over the defending World Champion Detroit Pistons. Wade recorded his first-career triple-double, finishing with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in Motown.

The HEAT had plenty of accolades to follow its successful December.

On January 4, 2005, Van Gundy won his first of two Eastern Conference Coach of the Month awards after guiding the HEAT to its best record in franchise history in a calendar month. He would win the honors again for March after leading the HEAT to a 12-3 record, when Miami wheeled off another 10-game winning streak, bringing Van Gundy’s Coach of the Month total to three for his career. Van Gundy also won Coach of the Month honors for March 2004.

Wade wrapped up his stellar month of December by averaging 23.0 points, 7.6 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals en route to winning his first-ever Eastern Conference Player of the Month award, becoming just the fourth HEAT player to win the honor and the first HEAT player since Lamar Odom won it for March 2004. O’Neal also won his 12th career Player of the Month award for March, marking the first time in HEAT history that two different HEAT players garnered Player of the Month honors.

In February, Wade, O’Neal, Van Gundy and the rest of the HEAT coaching staff solidified their positions among NBA elites as they represented the HEAT in the 2005 NBA All-Star Game. Wade and Van Gundy made their first visit in the mid-season classic, while O’Neal made his 12th appearance. Forward Udonis Haslem and Assistant Coach Bob McAdoo also joined All-Star festivities, along with Wade; the trio participated in the got milk? Rookie Challenge.

The 2004-05 season also marked a season of reunion for the HEAT, as four former HEAT players and coaches rejoined the team for a push for an NBA championship. Ron Rothstein rejoined Miami in September as an assistant coach. Rothstein first joined the HEAT as its first head coach and served three seasons at the helm. Former guard Bimbo Coles also rejoined the team as Director of Player Development.

On February 24, the HEAT reacquired Steve Smith from the Charlotte Bobcats in exchange for forward Malik Allen. Smith, originally drafted by the HEAT with the fifth pick of the 1991 NBA Draft, played for Miami for three-plus seasons before being traded to the Atlanta Hawks. On March 2, Alonzo Mourning was signed as a free agent after a year-and-a-half stint with the New Jersey Nets. Mourning was a five-time All-Star and two-time Defensive Player of the Year as a member of the HEAT from 1995-2003.

Now armed with the defensive presence of Mourning and the leadership of Smith, along with the continual spectacular play of Wade and O’Neal, the HEAT continued to separate themselves from the rest of the Eastern Conference.

On March 15, Wade’s pull-back jumper as time expired defeated New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden as the HEAT became the first team in the NBA to clinch a playoff berth. Ten days later against the Phoenix Suns, Miami clinched the first-ever Southeast Division title. On April 5 against the Bulls, the HEAT continued to make history. Miami’s 104-86 victory over Chicago clinched the No. 1 seed and secured homecourt advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, and it also set the franchise mark for consecutive home wins with 18. Jones also left a mark in the HEAT record book. His 3-pointer at the 10:37 mark of the first period broke Tim Hardaway’s single-season record of 807 made 3-pointers.

The HEAT finished the season with a 59-23 record, which ranks second best in team history. Miami’s 15-1 (.938) record against division foes also marked the best in NBA history.

O’Neal, who finished second in MVP voting behind Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash, earned All-NBA First Team honors, while Wade was named to the Second Team. Wade, who led all NBA guards in blocks, also earned the first All-Defensive Team honors (Second Team) of his career.

But the regular-season momentum Miami built didn’t falter in the playoffs. With O’Neal limited with a deep thigh bruise, and missing the first two playoff games in his career, Flash and the rest of the HEAT stepped up their games as Miami swept both the New Jersey Nets and Washington Wizards during the first two series of the playoffs.

In the Eastern Conference Finals the HEAT met up with the Pistons, vying for a trip to the NBA Finals appearance. After losing the opening game in Miami, the HEAT responded by taking three of the next four contests. But after Wade went down with a rib injury in a Game Five victory at Miami, Detroit used that opportunity to gain ground. Playing with both of its superstars hobbled with injuries, the HEAT still pushed the defending world champions to the brink of elimination. Detroit went on to defeat Miami in a decisive Game Seven, making key free throws down the stretch to secure an 88-82 win.

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