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82 games down, 16 wins to go; Wrapping up the the regular season

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Wednesday's victory over New Jersey gave the Heat 47 wins on the season.  Back on March 1st that win total seemed pretty unrealistic.  Miami was on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, sitting in 9th place with a record of 29-31, 1½ games back of 9th place Charlotte.  Since then, the Heat has been on an absolute tear. 

They went 18-4 in their final 22 games, jumping over Charlotte, Toronto, Milwaukee and Chicago en route to claiming the 5 seed for the second consecutive season.  Knowing that this season's roster was made up mostly of players that will come off the books before the summer, this year couldn't have ended up much better for the Heat. 

That fact becomes more clear when you consider that other teams in the NBA doing the same thing as the Heat by clearing as much cap space as possible (New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Washington and Minnesota to name a few) had much more forgettable seasons. 

Of those teams I just mentioned, who are all in same boat as Miami with lots of money to spend this summer, only Chicago made the playoffs, and none of them finished above .500.  In fact, they combined to finish with a .428 win percentage...and that drops to .333 if you subtract the Bulls 41-41 record. 

While we're on the subject of non-Playoff teams, lets pay a little attention to the 9th place team.  A combination of a hot run by the Bulls and cold spell by Toronto led to the Raptors falling completely out of the playoff picture, and now Canada's finest (and only) basketball club is heading to the NBA Lottery.   

This is good news for the Heat because now, due to the Jermaine O'Neal-Shaun Marion trade from last February, Miami gets Toronto's 2nd round pick in this summer's draft.  The Heat also will get a future 1st round pick from the Raptors, that will come sometime between now and 2015. 

Should Toronto miss the playoffs for the next 5 years, then the Heat will be awarded their 1st rounder in 2015 regardless of whether it's a lottery pick or not.  Otherwise, whenever the next season is that Toronto makes the playoffs, that will be the year Miami gets their 1st round pick. 

Shifting gears, I'm just going to get this over with so we can keep it behind us.  Yes, by winning on Wednesday the Heat sent themselves down a much tougher path in the Eastern Conference Playoffs then if they had lost.  There is more to that then just the Heat's first round opponent.  Playing Boston or Atlanta in the 1st round isn't a huge difference for Miami, and I think they would've had an equal opportunity to beat either one of them. 

Now lets say that the Heat win their 1st round series, a very do-able task.  Had they fallen to the 6 seed, Miami would have ended up playing the winner of the 2-7 series (Orlando-Charlotte) because the NBA doesn't re-seed after round 1.  But since the Heat finished in 5th place, the winner of their series will go on to play the winner of the Cavs-Bulls series.  Anybody outside of Chicago would agree with me that nobody in their right mind would rather play Cleveland in the 2nd round instead of Orlando (people in Chicago likely have their homer-goggles on and are legitimately hoping to beat the Cavs).

Alright...I couldn't not post that, but I'm glad to get it out of the way.  Even if it's the back of their minds, no member of the Heat would ever come out and say they should have lost a game, regardless or when or why.  It's been well known that their plan is to win win win and get as prepared as possible for whoever they may play in the post season. 

I'm sure their plan is to get to the NBA Finals, and while that is obviously (to us fans) a far fetched goal, that is what the team is going to do.  With that in mind, Miami knows that the road to the finals will in all likelihood will go through Cleveland so does it really matter when?  2nd round, 3rd round...before any of that they have to get through the 1st round, against an opponent that can play very well when on their game. 

We'll start talking about the postseason in the coming posts.  I first wanted to put a little closing stamp on the roller coaster of an 82-game regular season that the Heat just concluded.  I agree that in the NBA it sucks that there is such a difference between the top teams and the rest of the league; there are almost NEVER any true upsets and it takes away from drama, excitement and feeling that once in the Playoffs, any team can win.  Its much more true in Hockey, Baseball and even Football...but not so much in the NBA. 

I'll end with this, something that's been festering in my head for the past day or so.  Most of you know me well enough to know that I am a die-hard Miami sports fan.  I was born and raised down here, and have spent almost all of life in South Florida.   As long as I can remember I've been rooting for my hometown teams, and whether it's the Heat, Dolphins, Panthers, Marlins or Canes, I follow each and every season with the same passion, dedication and blind ambition that come along with being a Miami sports fan.

With that said, I think that a lot of Heat fans take for granted how consistently our team makes it to the postseason.  Including this year, the Heat has made the Playoffs in 7 of the last 10 years.  That alone is pretty damn impressive, but take a moment and think about the other teams from down here. 

My beloved Dolphins have made the Playoffs three times in the last 10 years (2000, 01 and that magical 2008 season), and the Marlins just once (2003) but they also won the World Series that year.  Then there's the Panthers, who haven't been to the playoffs since the 1999-2000 season, but a 4-game sweep to eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey has left the Panthers without a bona fide playoff victory since April 17th, 1997. 

The point of all that was to simply remind any Heat fan reading this that making the Playoffs is in fact a big deal and should always be appreciated because you never know when it could be over.  Believe me, I'm well aware that barring some kind of epic catastrophe our Heat will be in the thick of the postseason for years to come. 

For whatever reason, all the Heat-related articles, blog posts and reader comments that I've came across over the past week have made me feel like the Heat making the Playoffs is something that comes naturally.  Yes, making the playoffs 64% of the time will do that to some fans (and how many teams in the NBA do you think can say they make the playoffs with that kind of success rate?) but the bottom line is this: appreciate that we have an amazing franchise to call our own. 

Miami is still one of the youngest franchises in the league, as only Orlando, Minnesota, Memphis, Toronto and Charlotte came into the NBA after the Heat did.  That being the case, it should make you appreciate even more what Miami has been able to accomplish in their 22 years.  They have the same amount of Division titles (7) as those other five teams COMBINED, and the Heat has one thing that none of them do...a big banner hanging up in their arena that says "NBA Champions".

So as we head into the Playoffs for the 14th time, try and remember how awesome it is to root for a team as successful as the Heat.  Somehow, they have managed to make the Playoffs year after year but still don't get nearly the amount of consistent attention that say Phoenix, Orlando or even Dallas get...and none of those teams have won a title in their history, let alone this decade.