2008-09: HEAT Resurgent in the Year of Wade
The 2008-09 season marked the beginning of a rebuilding campaign for the Miami HEAT. With most of the pieces from the 2006 Championship season gone, the team, behind new head coach Erik Spoelstra, began building a new team around Dwyane Wade. And Wade was certainly up to the task.
After missing 30 games of the 2007-08 season, Wade used a Gold Medal effort with the United States Olympic Team in Beijing – where he was arguably the best player in a star studded lineup – to retool his game and reinsert himself in the elite tier of league talent. Named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for the months of December and February, Wade came into the season a better all around player than ever, cutting down on his turnovers, raising his efficiency with a sparkling PER of 30.4 and earning a spot on the All-NBA Defensive Second Team.
With fitting timing for such a pristine season, Wade surpassed Alonzo Mourning – whose jersey was retired by the team two weeks later – for the most point in team history with over 9,459. And after finishing with three 50-point games and 13 with 40, it was no surprise that Wade was named to the All-NBA First Team and that he was a close third in MVP voting.
With Wade’s resurgence came team success. The HEAT, having drafted Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers and signed James Jones and Jamaal Magloire in the offseason, were better, and healthier, across the board. Sitting at four games over .500 before the All-Star Break, Miami made a move to bolster its frontline, trading Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to the Toronto Raptors for six-time All-Star center Jermaine O’Neal, forward Jamario Moon and draft picks.
The team would finish 43-39 – making Spoelstra the winningest first-year coach in franchise history – earning its 800th franchise game on February 21 and securing its 13th postseason berth. Miami became just the second team in NBA history to earn a spot in the playoffs after winning 15-or-fewer games the season prior. And their 11 postseason appearances in the past 14 years were second among Eastern Conference teams only to the Detroit Pistons, who had been in the playoffs 12 times in that span.
The HEAT wound up losing in seven games to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, dropping the final game 91-78 May 3, but with new young talent, an MVP candidate and a 28-win improvement from the previous season, it was clear that Miami was back on the upswing.