Back in September, when the Miami Heat assembled to begin training camp, Spoelstra addressed his team about furthering its championship legacy and how rare it is for a team to find its way to the NBA Finals in four consecutive seasons.
“We’ve never brought it up since then,” Spoelstra said.
The sputtering stretches of play in March and April, surrendering the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs to Indiana, winning 12 fewer games in this regular season than a year ago, they all seem moot and meaningless now. The Heat have a chance at a third consecutive NBA title, with the finals starting Thursday night against San Antonio in a title-series rematch.
“It’s amazing to make it to one finals,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. “To do it four times in a row for some of these guys, it’s a tremendous, tremendous accomplishment and it speaks volumes to the dedication, luck, and perseverance that you need to do it.”
Spoelstra spoke of that luck factor when he gathered his team for a locker-room huddle moments after the celebration started Friday night, after Miami wrapped up its fourth straight East crown with a 117-92 win over Indiana to win the series in six games. His words were interrupted twice by LeBron James, which nobody minded.
“We don’t take this for granted,” Spoelstra said.
“No, sir,” James added, nodding.
“We do not take it for granted,” Spoelstra repeated.
“No way,” James interjected.
“How tough it actually is and how many things have to go our way,” Spoelstra continued. “Four times, you guys who haven’t been here with us the whole time, you guys inherit everything that we’ve experienced.”
Only six current Heat players appeared in the 2011 postseason, Miami’s first of the “Big 3” era and the last in which it actually lost a series. James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, James Jones and Udonis Haslem are the last holdovers.
Battier and Norris Cole arrived after the 2011 finals loss. Ray Allen, Chris Andersen and Rashard Lewis - all playing huge roles these days for Miami - came after the first title run of this Heat era in 2012. The core of last season’s title squad, with the exception of amnestied Mike Miller, was back to try it again this time around.
Even with all that talent, with that championship experience, Spoelstra knew a tone had to be immediately set when the season began.