Not with The Decision.
He made The Promise.
When the Heat were bounced in the first round of the 2010 playoffs, Wade raised an eyebrow for emphasis and said, “This will be my last first-round exit for a while.”
You know the rest. The roster was revamped. LeBron James(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes) arrived. The Heat won 58 games, all seeming meaningless since this season will be solely judged by playoff results, the first of those coming Saturday when the Philadelphia 76ers visit for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
“I’m always thinking about that,” Wade said Friday when asked to recall his mindset when delivering those words. “I meant it.”
Motivation is not scarce around the Heat, with James still looking for his first championship, a slew of veterans with 10-plus seasons of experience seeking their first rings, and six months of jabs from doubters serving as fuel. Topping it off, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra dusted off the 2006 NBA championship trophy at a team meeting Thursday night.
“Inspiration and motivation,” James said. “Two words that describe it for me.”
Philadelphia coach Doug Collins understands. His team—150-1 underdogs at some sports books in this series—is acutely aware that Miami has spent the last 82 games thinking about this moment, the start of a run that the Heat hope ends with them hoisting a trophy of their own.
“When those three guys got together last summer, Saturday is what they were shooting for,” Collins said. “They did get through the regular season, but they’re pinning their hopes on starting Saturday, that they can make a championship run.”
Miami swept the season series 3-0, with the winning margins between 9-12 points.
The teams last played on March 25, a game in Miami where the 76ers led by as many as 16 in the first half and took a 82-77 lead into the fourth. Wade took over from there, outscoring Philadelphia 18-17 over the final 12 minutes and leading the Heat to a 111-99 victory.
Wade averaged 30.7 points on 52 percent shooting against the 76ers this season, with James averaging 22.7 points and Bosh 17.7 points.
“The whole team is good. They don’t have that record because of just three guys,” Philadelphia forward Thaddeus Young(notes) said. “This is really what they’re playing for is the playoffs. But we expect to be ready to try and stop them.”
Miami got another boost at practice Friday, when power forward Udonis Haslem(notes) went through the workout. Haslem hasn’t played since November because of a ruptured foot ligament, and the team is still being cautious about his potential postseason availability.
“I think the first day was a success,” Haslem said.
This Heat team was assembled for “multiple championships,” James insisted when Miami welcomed him, Wade and Bosh last July 9, one day after the two-time MVP went on television to announce he was leaving Cleveland in what’s known as The Decision.
The start was rocky. Miami was 9-8. That’s been long forgotten: The Heat went 49-16 from there, the first sparks of promise seeming to come when the Heat returned to James’ old Cleveland home on Dec. 2 and won 118-90 in perhaps the most raucous regular-season atmosphere in league history.
“Going back to Cleveland was the thing that got him jump-started,” Collins said. “When they played in Cleveland, it seemed like he and the team took off at that moment.”
The 76ers had a jump-start, too.
They played Miami twice in the season’s first month. Philadelphia lost its season-opener at home 97-87, then fell again Nov. 26 in Miami, 99-90. That one sent the 76ers to 3-13, which was then the NBA’s second-worst record.
Much like Miami’s sputter from the gate, that seems long ago. Over the next four months, the 76ers won 37 of 60 games before losing five of six to end the season.
So here they are, playing with absolutely no burden of expectation.
“They’re dangerous, no question about it,” Wade said. “First two games are in Miami, we’ve got to come out and take care of business.”
That’s been James’ mantra all season.
He said sleep likely will be tough Friday night, with his emotions already soaring in playoff anticipation. James said he didn’t minimize the importance of the regular season, but it’s not exactly a state secret to know that everything means much more starting Saturday afternoon.
“I’m ready,” James said.
AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to this story.