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RedZone Diaries - Playoff Time, All Out, All the Time

Apr 25 2005 3:01PM


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HEAT fans, Are you ready?

Are you prepared for the high’s and lows, the joy, the pain, the drama, the journey, the inevitable twists and turns, the excitement and the heartache that the NBA Playoffs bring every year?

Are your ready to watch the 2005 NBA Playoffs from the edge of your seat, realizing fully, that every possession of every game matters, more than ever?

The Miami HEAT embark on their Tenth playoff adventure in Seventeen years and this is their best chance yet at winning the NBA Championship. Winning 16 more games is what it takes. It is the toughest task in the basketball world but this HEAT team believes they can do it. Beginning with this first round, best-of-seven series with a dangerous and disarming, New Jersey Nets, everyone knows it is a long, hard climb. They are all ready to begin.

“There is not one guy of the twelve that I would hesitate to put in the game”, says HEAT Coach Stan Van Gundy.

Stan joins Pat Riley as the only two in HEAT history to take their first two HEAT teams to the Playoffs (Pat did it his first 6 seasons) and is hoping for a long run with his deep team.

It all begins with Shaq. Miami’s unselfish, charismatic leader begins this first round series against New Jersey with the mystery of his bruised right thigh. He practiced with his team on Saturday and is preparing to play in Game 1, tomorrow.

While he may not be at 100% the Diesel’s Playoff track record speaks for itself. In 158 career post-season games he has averaged 27.2ppg, 12.9rpg on 56% shooting. In the 2002 NBA Finals with the Lakers he dominated the Nets averaging a whopping 36.3ppg with 12.3rpg. He has never missed a playoff game with an injury. Tomorrow is not likely to be his first. Shaquille O’Neal remains the biggest factor in this series and every other that the HEAT play in.

Having Alonzo Mourning could be a blessing through these playoffs. The silver lining of Shaq’s late season ailments was the minutes it afforded Zo on the floor. His 19 games with the Heat served their purpose. Mourning is playoff-ready and his near-the-basket defense is razor sharp. He blocked 24 shots over the HEAT’s last 8 games. He proved he is capable of playing longer minutes and a meaningful role.

The Playoff stage is a place where some shrink and others shine. Dwyane Wade shines there. He did as a rookie, a year ago, when he averaged 18ppg in his first 13 NBA Playoff games. His first ever post-season game was capped by his Game 1, game winner, against New Orleans last April. It was a portent of big game, late moment heroics that have happened since and what may lie ahead.

“He got better and better this season and is constantly looking to improve”, says Van Gundy of Wade, the HEAT’s youngest All-Star ever. “He is intelligent and even keeled despite all they hype he’s created. He is uncommonly mature, well beyond his years.”

Wade had the best offensive season in franchise history averaging 24.1ppg. He improved his mid range jump shot and his defense. He exceeded his rookie season by leaps and bounds, literally. His scoring went up 8ppg. He had 48 more blocks (he was the NBA’s top shot blocking guard), 35 more steals and 49 more dunks than in his strong rookie season.

Wade enjoys the Playoff platform, he cherishes it. “You have to take full advantage of each chance you get”, he said yesterday.

He has stayed true to the person he is and that should not be taken lightly. It is not often you see this. He is the same humble, hardworking, team-oriented player as when he arrived even under the glare of his newly found stardom. While he is quick to admit that Shaq has sped up his progress he is also ready to accept his major role.

“I expect to be the kind of player that my team can count on”, said Wade after Friday’s practice.

New Jersey’s leader, Jason Kidd, will also play a leading role in this series. During the Nets 15-4 run to end the season, Kidd paved the way averaging 16 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists a game. He had 3 triple-doubles during the Nets strong finishing statement. It was Kidd that led the Nets to their back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. Last spring, on an injured knee he still made New Jersey formidable. The Nets lost in 7 games, in the second round, against the soon-to-be Champion Detroit Pistons.

In this series Kidd is healthy and on top of his game and he may be defending Wade. He comes in with great respect for Wade .

“He’s one of the best”, he said yesterday. “He’s awesome. An unbelievable All-Star. He’s a great compliment to Shaq.”

Vince Carter has become just that for Kidd. The deposed former Raptor found new life in New Jersey. He averaged 27.5ppg in his 57 games with the Nets and scored almost 32ppg in April to close the regular season. However, against Miami he scored just 17.3ppg, his lowest output this season against an Eastern Conference team.

Make no mistake; he will be a very difficult man to cover. He can score from everywhere; inside on post-ups, outside from 3-point land. Stan Van Gundy said yesterday that on his current roll he is playing like the best perimeter player in the league and would present “a difficult challenge”.

A challenge Miami Captain, Eddie Jones, is up to and ready for. Jones is Miami’s best perimeter defender and lives for this kind of assignment. Van Gundy and his teammates appreciate what Jones does without fanfare.

“He does whatever you ask of him to the best of his ability”, said Van Gundy Friday. “He is the finest professional that I have been around in my ten years here”.

After being Miami’s top scorer for 4 straight years Jones never complained about becoming the 3rd option offensively. He said nothing when asked to change positions earlier this season (from off-guard to small forward). He is an 11-year veteran and a 3-time All-Star and he has both accepted and embraced his role; a back seat on offense but right up front on defense. The Captain led by example. His defense against Carter will be something to watch, for as long as this series lasts.

Steve Smith is second to Shaq when it comes to Playoff experience on the HEAT. Smith has played in 87 playoff games with five teams (Miami, Atlanta, Portland, San Antonio and New Orleans). He was a rookie on Miami’s first Playoff team in 1992.

Keyon Dooling, a native of Ft. Lauderdale, is in the NBA Playoffs for the very first time. He came to every HEAT home playoff game last year to support his former LA Clipper teammate, Lamar Odom. Now those roles are reversed.

“I have waited my whole career for this. I am looking so forward to this”, Dooling told me before the game at Orlando last Wednesday.

After spending his first 4 NBA seasons with the Clippers he appreciates and enjoys the winning mentality in Miami.

“Everyone understands their role, everyone is thinking about what’s best for the team.”

So let the 2005 NBA Playoffs begin tomorrow at 3pm inside the HEAT’s House. It is time to live in the moment and make the most of each one. It is all-out, all the time, from here on in. IT IS PLAYOFF TIME !