MIAMI — Exactly one year ago, when the NBA opened its lockout-shortened season on this festive day, the Miami Heat found itself in the same position that the Oklahoma City Thunder will be in on Tuesday afternoon.
The Heat was on the road, still heartbroken.
Standing across the court were the Dallas Mavericks, the team that had made Miami so miserable, bouncing it from the Finals with a convincing 4-2 series win.
“We've been in their shoes, playing on Christmas against the team that put you out the year before,” said Heat forward Chris Bosh of the Thunder. “We know that they're going to come with a lot of intensity and I think it's a really good chance for both teams to prove what they can do.”
Miami still remembers how it so desperately sought to exact a small measure of revenge on those Mavs. And on that Sunday, the game was never close. The Heat led by as many as 35 points before calling off the dogs and settling for a sound 11-point win.
“When you get an opportunity to play a team that beat you, it's going to mean a little more, especially in (a Christmas Day) game,” said Heat guard Dwyane Wade. “So we got to bring our hard hats and we got to come out and be focused and understand that this team did lose to us in the Finals and it hurt them. And we got to remember how we felt when we played Dallas, after losing in the Finals, on Christmas, and how we went in their place and kind of controlled the game from start to finish.”
On the eve of their initial regular season rematch with the Thunder, Heat players also harkened back to how they felt going through their championship season. They still remember how they dealt with playing a season with the singular goal of returning to the NBA Finals after falling short in the last round the previous year. They remember how nothing else even mattered.
“Your focus is to get back,” Wade said. “You come into the next year, especially when you've got a very good team like they have, your whole focus is to get back to that position so you can (right) the ship.”
Wade said that burning desire lingered even throughout the lengthy NBA season.
“Yup. The whole time,” he said. “You'll never forget it. If you're a competitor, you'll never forget it. And it drives you, especially the following year.”
Bosh recalls how that nagging memory motivated him and his teammates.
“It hurts, but you're super motivated to get back going with the season,” Bosh said. “You're motivated for everything. Everything is another chance to take that step to get back to that point. And you know that you have to do more.
“That's the main thing that we were thinking about, like, today we did good but we need more from each other in order to do better. Because we know if we do the same thing that we did last year we're fooling ourselves. So we expect them to be more motivated to do more as a team and (this game) should be a lot of fun.”