1997-98: HEAT Turns 10; Continues to Win
As the Miami HEAT franchise celebrated its 10-year anniversary, Pat Riley's troops also faced the weight of high expectations. With an established core of NBA veterans, a legendary coach and a never-say-die philosophy, Miami posted 55 wins and win its second straight Atlantic Division title.
The season began with center Alonzo Mourning on the injured list following offseason knee surgery. Mourning missed the first 22 games of the season, but the Heat got off to a 15-7 start in his absence. Once healthy, Mourning had another fine season for the HEAT, averaging 19.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 2.24 bpg, ninth in the NBA, and also ranking third in the league in field goal percentage at .551.
Once again, Isaac Austin shined in Mourning absence. The 6-11 Austin, whose dogged effort transformed him from an overweight project to a key NBA reserve, was traded in midseason. Faced with losing Austin to free agency, the HEAT sent Austin, rookie Charles Smith and the HEAT's 1998 first-round pick to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for swingman Brent Barry.
Despite dealing Austin and losing small forward Jamal Mashburn for two months with a broken thumb, the Heat responded with its best basketball, going 20-4 after the trade and getting improved production from Mourning, forward P.J. Brown (9.6 ppg and 8.6 rpg for the season) and guard Voshon Lenard, who averaged 12.6 ppg, and ranked sixth in the NBA in three-point field goals made with 153.
Miami's emotional leader was once again guard Tim Hardaway, who led the Heat in assists at 8.3 apg (6th in the NBA) and averaged 18.9 ppg, earning his fifth All-Star selection. He hit a buzzer-beater to spoil Washington's home opener on November 1, nailed a game-ending three-pointer on November 15 and hit what proved to be the game-winner in an 82-81 over New York on April 12.
While Miami won that battle with New York, the Knicks would win the war. The two Atlantic Division foes renewed their fierce postseason rivalry in the first round of the 1998 NBA Playoffs. Only one year after their controversial seven-game series, the Knicks and HEAT battled once again. Lenard was particularly effective in the HEAT's first two playoff games, scoring 25 and 28 points -- but the HEAT managed only a split at home. The teams also split a pair of games at Madison Square Garden, but an altercation late in Game 4 proved lethal for the HEAT. Mourning was suspended for the deciding game after a fight with New York's Larry Johnson. Miami lost the deciding game by a score of 98-81.