- Associated Press - Friday, November 12, 2010

MIAMI (AP) - Dwyane Wade has been part of a Miami Heat team that stumbled at the start of a season, and been part of a Heat team that began the year flying high.

The slow-starting team won an NBA championship.

The fast-starting club got bounced in the first round of the 2010 playoffs.

Go figure.

While everyone inside the Heat locker finds this 5-4 start disappointing and at times frustrating, Wade knows _ and has history to show _ that how a season begins isn’t always the best way of forecasting how it will end.

“Of course (outside) people are smiling and feeling good about our 5-4 start and as well as they should be,” Wade said Friday before leaving the practice court, noting that last season’s Heat team started 6-1 and went nowhere quickly in the postseason. “The Heat haters, that’s fine. But as long as we continue to get our support from our fans and in here, we’ll be fine.”

True, the last three eventual NBA champions _ Boston in 2008, the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and the Lakers again this past June _ didn’t get their fourth loss, on average, until the 27th game of the season. The Celtics’ 112-107 win in Miami on Thursday night dealt the Heat their fourth loss in nine games.

Such a start does not doom a season. Michael Jordan’s first eventual championship season in Chicago started with the Bulls losing their first three games and six of their first 11. In the last 20 seasons, five teams started 5-4 or worse and went on to win the NBA title. The 2006 Heat team that won it all only managed a 6-4 start, which Miami will try to match Saturday when it hosts struggling Toronto.

It’ll be the first time Chris Bosh faces the team he spent his first seven NBA seasons with.

“I think when you lose two in a row early on, I think everybody is expecting us to panic,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I’m sure the outside perception is in a panic right now. And that’s the most important thing for us right now _ to stay together as a group. It is a tight group and they want to make it work, and so we will get it done as long as we keep that mindset.”

Spoelstra stood in the Heat locker room after Thursday’s loss and told his team that it’s “us against the world.”

Given the outside reaction to the slow Miami start in this first season of LeBron James, Wade and Bosh playing together, Spoelstra might be right.

“It’s like they’re not like expecting somebody to slap the hell out of them,” TNT analyst Charles Barkley said on-air early Friday. “Dude, let’s get something straight: Y’all are the Miami Heat. Y’all wanted this thing, the Big 3. Every time y’all come to town, y’all better bring your ‘A’ game. I’m surprised they’re in shock that everybody’s not loving them.”

And then there was this tweet posted to Paul Pierce’s account late Thursday night: “It’s been a pleasure to bring my talents to south beach,” a not-even-veiled jab at James‘ decision this summer.

That one got noticed.

“Look up the definition of a studio gangster,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said, making a reference to someone who, delicately put, appears to be tougher than they really are. “Nobody pays them dudes no mind, man. I’m here to play basketball. … They can say what they want to say. It’s just basketball. For us, this team is built and we’re not going to be at our best right now. We understand that.”

Bosh has watched most of Toronto’s games so far this season, and has not enjoyed seeing his old team get off to an awful start. The Raptors took a 1-7 record into Friday’s matchup in Orlando.

Since the Heat have their own issues to deal with, don’t look for him to be sympathetic Saturday night.

“There’s no anxiousness for tomorrow,” Bosh said. “The sky never falls. It’s too pretty out there.”

OK, the sky may not fall, but the Heat landscape may change a bit.

Spoelstra said he’s considering lineup changes, and given that center Joel Anthony didn’t start the second half against the Celtics, that would suggest either Zydrunas Ilgauskas or Jamaal Magloire may be in line for a new role soon.

“We’re not there right now,” Spoelstra said, reiterating his message from Thursday night. “We will be.”

James agrees.

Optimists would say Miami’s four losses have come against teams that have dropped a combined five games _ entering Friday, Boston was 7-2, New Orleans 7-0 and Utah 5-3 _ and that the Heat had an opportunity in each of those defeats. Pessimists would say the union of James, Wade and Bosh isn’t working and Miami lacks what it takes to beat elite teams.

James insisted that the Heat locker room remains undeterred.

“We knew it was going to be a challenge,” James said. “I knew it wouldn’t just be a bed of roses stepping into this situation. But I came here for the challenge.”

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