Chris Bosh has heard the jokes. He knows he's the "half" in the 2 1/2 men, and the big-2 1/2 jokes about the Miami Heat. The seven-time All-Star keeps it all in perspective.
"We kind of have that chip on our shoulder," Bosh said to a small group of reporters during All-Star Weekend in Orlando. His two more famous teammates, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, held court for much larger crowds a few feet away.
"Coming up short last season, I think, was the reason for everything," Bosh said. We're just trying to make strides and continue to get better."
The Heat have been a lightning rod for controversy and criticism since Bosh and James joined Wade in Miami to create a super team, with super expectations. Last season, the Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in six games in the NBA Finals.
In their second year together, league analysts already are calling it a championship-or-bust season and speculating that the team may move one of the Big Three if the Heat finish the season without a championship ring.
Bosh shook his head at the notion and the doomsday phrase being used to describe his team's fate.
"It's so cliche," Bosh said. "I don't really know what bust means. It's championship and that's it, that's what we're thinking about. That is our goal."
Bosh said the circus atmosphere that surrounded the team last season has lessened, which he's happy about.
"Whether you like to admit it or not, things around you, they're going to affect you," he said. "That's something that we had to either notice or not notice. Either way, it was energy that we were spending instead of talking about how we can get better. This year, it's just been all about basketball."
But the intense scrutiny continues. Wizards forward Rashard Lewis says he understands what the Heat are up against. A two-time All-Star, Lewis has been to the playoffs six times, including a trip to the NBA Finals with the Orlando Magic in 2009.
"They're definitely under pressure, especially after going all the way to the Finals last year and not being able to finish the job," Lewis said. "Just like when I was in Orlando, the year we made the Finals and lost to the Lakers, we felt like that next year, we had to win."
The following season, Orlando lost to Boston in the Eastern Conference finals.
"We felt like that year was a total failure," Lewis said. "Once you've made it to the Finals, you feel like you have no excuses for not making it back. With the type of talent Miami has, they have to go out there and get the job done."
The Heat hold the second seed in the Eastern Conference behind the Chicago Bulls and face a possible first-round matchup with the New York Knicks. Wade has been battling nagging injuries all season, and he and Bosh sat out Wednesday's 96-72 win over the Toronto Raptors.
"I think the best thing is that guys come in and step up in their absence," James said Wednesday on the team website. "It's not about me, it's about Juwan Howard coming in and being productive, Dexter Pittman, Terrel Harris, Mike Miller. ... It's more gratifying when I see guys come off the bench and guys that don't play as much come in and get in a groove and make plays for us."
The Wizards have four games left and play the Heat twice — in Miami on Saturday and at home Thursday in their finale. While the Wizards will try to play the role of spoiler, the Heat have a different mission.
James sounds like he understands that if the Heat win it all, the strength of their bench will be just as critical as the performance of the Big Three. That's how Lewis sees it.
"I think they have the talent to do it, and I think the supporting cast is more important than the Big Three," Lewis said. "You have to play as a team. When you get to the Finals, it's a defensive game. People are going to focus on those three. When you come up big, its because your supporting cast helps you. That's how we got to the Finals.
"People are going to take shots at them, but I think they're the front-runners. They are the team you have to go through."
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