1991-92: Miami Makes Playoffs, But Can The HEAT Beat Michael?
In the 1991 NBA Draft the HEAT selected Steve Smith, a multifaceted guard from Michigan State. The young, talented squad matured into a competitive unit in 1991-92, improving its record by 14 games to 38-44. Miami finished in fourth place in the Atlantic Division and made the playoffs for the first time ever.
The HEAT got off to an 8-7 start, the best in its four-year history. In January, Miami engineered the only major trade of its early years when the team sent Sherman Douglas to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Brian Shaw. Shaw, a 6-6 guard, was a talented defender and capable outside shooter who had averaged 7.6 assists for the Celtics in 1990-91. Once in Miami, Shaw joined the 6-8 Smith to form one of the tallest backcourts in the league.
In the second half of the season Glen Rice emerged as the team's top scoring threat. On April 11 Rice set a new Miami single-game scoring record with 46 points against Orlando. He also had games of 36 and 34 points that week, and he was named the NBA Player of the Month for April.
The HEAT hovered just under .500 for most of the year. Miami's home record was a solid 28-13, but the team was still struggling on the road, with a 10-31 mark. Despite the HEAT's losing record for the season, Cleveland's defeat of Atlanta on the last day of the campaign allowed Miami to snatch the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. Miami was the first of the four late-1980s expansion teams to reach the postseason.
The HEAT's playoff experience, however, was short-lived. No amount of enthusiasm or luck could help the club against the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, whose 67-15 record was the league's best. Chicago steamrolled Miami in three straight games. The quick exit did little to dampen the thrill of the successful season, however, and the franchise looked to the future with optimism.
Glen Rice paced the team in scoring in 1991-92, averaging 22.3 points to finish 10th in the NBA. Rony Seikaly added 16.4 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. Injuries limited Steve Smith to 61 games, but he nonetheless earned a berth on the NBA All-Rookie First Team. Smith contributed 12.0 points and a team-high 4.6 assists per game.