MIAMI – Udonis Haslem started the Miami Heat postseason with an apology.
It wasn’t a real apology.
Haslem, like many other Heat players, is amused by the notion that the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs isn’t considered a favorite to win the Eastern Conference title. Miami doesn’t have an MVP candidate, didn’t have anyone qualify for the top 20 in the league’s scoring race, and according to FanDuel Sportsbook only has the third-best odds of winning the East behind Milwaukee and Boston.
“It might not be the sexiest,” Haslem, the longtime Heat captain and 19-year veteran, said of Miami's 53-29 regular season mark. “We ain’t got nobody out here scoring 85 points in one game. Ain’t got none of that. But we are winning basketball games collectively as a unit and as a team. I’m sorry to everybody in the basketball world that that’s not sexy enough for you guys, but we’re thankful for the guys that we have and the opportunity that we have to be the No. 1 seed.”
Miami opens the playoffs at home on Sunday afternoon; the Heat will find out their opponent on Friday night. By then, the Heat expect to have center Bam Adebayo — out because of a stint in the league’s health and safety protocols — back and ready for Game 1. He was the only Heat player missing Wednesday when the team resumed practice after a two-day, players-only, bonding trip to the Bahamas.
“In terms of whether there’s motivation because people are counting us out or not giving us a due respect, each person can translate that on their own,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I think the more powerful motivation is what we’re trying to play for and compete for, which is the hardest thing you attempt to do in a team sport, to compete for a title.”
It might seem surprising to some that a team that made headlines a few weeks ago for an in-game argument — All-Star forward Jimmy Butler exchanging words with Spoelstra during a time out, then Haslem getting involved in a rather demonstrative way — went on vacation together. Whatever caused that argument was forgotten by the next day anyway, since some players arrived for work the following morning and found Butler and Haslem already in the locker room and carrying on with their usual brand of conversation and nonsense.
The Heat insist they’re united. They bicker, and that argument wasn’t the worst dustup the team has experienced this season, but Haslem said that’s all part this team’s DNA.
“Typical day in Miami, man,” Haslem said of the time-out mess last month. “That’s how we get stuff done around here. We believe in eye-to-eye communication. ... You say what you’ve got to say, I’ll say what I’ve got to say, I love you, you love me, let’s get back on the basketball court, let’s play.”
That dustup came during a four-game Miami losing streak. When that slide ended, the Heat won six straight to lock up the No. 1 seed in the East before losing a meaningless regular-season finale in Orlando. Most Heat regulars didn’t play in that game, and the Bahamas trip then got underway.
Being the No. 1 seed guarantees nothing; no top seed has won the East title since Cleveland in 2016, and a top seed has only made one East final in the last four years — that being Milwaukee, when it lost to Toronto in 2019.
But the Heat, just as they were in the bubble two years ago when they went to the NBA Finals as the East’s No. 5 seed, insist that they believe they have enough to contend for a title.
“I feel good. I do,” Butler said. “I don’t put a ceiling or basement on anything, man, because we can’t control everything. I just know that if we focus in on us, and what we can control, and what we’re capable of, we’re going to be OK.”
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