MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James was standing at his locker and chatting a few days ago when the conversation turned to which teams out there the Miami Heat might fear entering these playoffs.
James quickly gave his answer.
"We respect all," James said, "but fear none."
With those words it became obvious: Even after a regular season that seemed boring at times, and was reduced to a sputter at the finish, the Heat have no lack of confidence as they head to the playoffs. They're bidding for a third straight title, something only three franchises have done. And they're seeking a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals, something only the Celtics and Lakers have accomplished.
The 54-28 mark, No. 2 seed in the East, 11-14 record down the stretch ... if there's another parade on Biscayne Boulevard in June, few will recall that grind.
"We'll be tested," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Our guys understand that and we embrace the competition. When you get into this second season you have no idea what's going to happen. That competition, that fierce competition, it either brings out the best in you — or it brings out something else. Our guys, they thrive on this time of the year. That doesn't guarantee anything, but everybody is looking forward to getting started."
Miami opens at home against Charlotte on Sunday afternoon in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference first-round series.
The last time the teams met, James scored a career-high 61 points. For whatever reason, the Heat have cooled big-time since.
They wasted numerous chances to topple Indiana for the No. 1 seed in the East, and wound up basically surrendering before being mathematically eliminated from the conference race so James and Chris Bosh could rest. They went 2-6 in their last eight games.
Then again, there's nothing that says the Heat have to be title-ready Sunday. Former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy, now an ESPN analyst, thinks Miami can play its way into playoff form.
"It doesn't mean they're going to sweep their way through, but I just feel like they'll have methodical series wins against their first two opponents," Van Gundy said. "And then the challenges will start in the Eastern Conference finals for them."
Continue reading this story on the...