SI Vault
 
ATLANTIC: 1 MIAMI Heat
Marty Burns
November 01, 1999
Even with Tim Hardaway healthy, will Miami have enough offense to win it all?
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 01, 1999

Atlantic: 1 Miami Heat

Even with Tim Hardaway healthy, will Miami have enough offense to win it all?

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

By the Numbers

1998-99 record: 37-17 (tied for first in Eastern Conference) Coach: Pat Riley (fifth season with Heat)

1998-99 PER GAME AVERAGES

POINT (rank)

FG% (rank)

REBOUNDS (rank)

TURNOVERS (rank)

HEAT

89.0 (23)

45.3 (6)

40.3 (22)

14.9 (8)

OPPONENTS

84.0 (2)

41.1 (3)

39.2 (4)

13.5 (26)

A black-and-white mural painted on the side of a building on Biscayne Boulevard reminds passersby of Tim Hardaway's standing in Miami. Under a picture of Hardaway, wearing a black Heat warmup suit and holding a basketball, an ad for Nike reads CROSSOVER LESSONS AT YOUR OWN EXPENSE. "They were supposed to take it down awhile ago," Hardaway says of the mural, "but they decided not to because it would cost too much. So it stays up."

Sort of like the 32-year-old Hardaway. Though bothered by a sore left knee much of last season, he still averaged 17.4 points and 7.3 assists. That placed him alongside Gary Payton and Stephon Marbury as the only NBA players to reach both those figures, and he earned second-team all-league honors. Unfortunately for Hardaway, his gimpy knee slowed him late in the season, and he played horribly in Miami's first-round playoff loss to the Knicks. In five games against New York he averaged only 9.0 points and 6.4 assists while shooting just 26.8% and committing 3.6 turnovers per game.

After undergoing arthroscopic surgery in the off-season, Hardaway says he's ready to put last year's disappointment behind him. He spent part of the summer quarter-backing Team USA in the Olympic qualifying tournament, flashing his trademark crossover dribble and taking the ball to the hole. He also hired a personal trainer for the first time. As he enters the final season of his four-year, $16 million contract, he's determined to show that he's worth the four-year, $67.4 million deal he wants at season's end. "I'm incredibly motivated," Hardaway says. "Last year was my worst ever. I didn't feel I played up to par. But I'm back now, I feel great, and it's time to make amends."

If Hardaway bounces back, the Heat should contend for the NBA title. Nearly all the key players are back from last year's 33-17 team, which won a third straight Atlantic Division crown and was the top seed in the East for the first time. In Hardaway and center Alonzo Mourning, the 1998-99 MVP runner-up who averaged 20.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and a league-best 3.9 blocked shots, Miami boasts one of the league's best inside-out combinations. Forward Otis Thorpe, a 15-year veteran who signed as a free agent in August, will provide depth, scoring and rebounding when he returns from a broken right thumb that could sideline him for the season's first month.

Despite two straight first-round playoff exits, coach Pat Riley refused to dismantle the Heat. "I've got a good team," says Riley, who had little room under the salary cap to make wholesale changes anyway. "There was no reason to break it up. Last year our top three perimeter players were hurt all season. We've just got to stay healthy."

Besides a gimpy Hardaway, Miami lost Voshon Lenard, its starting shooting guard, for the first 35 games of last season because of a broken left tibia, as well as Jamal Mashburn, its starting small forward, for 26 of the first 28 games with a severe left-knee bruise. Without Hardaway's usual penetration, Mashburn's scoring and Lenard's three-point shooting, the Heat offense sputtered, averaging just 89.0 points per game, 23rd in the NBA. Miami made up for its lack of punch with stifling team defense, but that wasn't enough against New York in the postseason.

With rules changes expected to hinder the Heat's infamous clutch-and-grab defense and with free agent guard Terry Porter having taken his dangerous three-point shot to San Antonio, Riley needs to find more scoring this season. In the off-season he tried to acquire guard Mitch Richmond and swingmen Ron Mercer and Calbert Cheaney, among others, but couldn't bring himself to part with the hard-working forward P.J. Brown, the player every team seemed to want. So Riley is reduced to hoping that Lenard, a good spot-up shooter who doesn't create off the dribble or defend particularly well, and the gifted but enigmatic Mashburn, who has a full repertoire of moves but a lackadaisical approach and a recent history of injuries, will flourish.

Riley will try to counter the new rules by getting his perimeter defenders to move their feet as much as possible and to funnel penetrators toward the intimidating Mourning, and Brown, an effective weak-side helper. "As much as the new rules are going to hurt us defensively," says Riley, "they should help us offensively because we've got guys who can go to the basket too." If that doesn't work, look for the Heat to go back to their old ways and force refs to blow the whistle every trip down the court.

Riley won't change his tendency to treat each game as if it were Game 7 of the Finals, but he'll most likely cut down on Hardaway's minutes (36.4 per game last year) to keep him fresher for the playoffs. Hardaway is convinced that his knees won't trouble him. Eager to win an NBA championship and motivated to earn a big contract, the 10-year vet says he plans to do whatever it takes to bring the NBA Finals to American Airlines Arena, the Heat's sparkling new waterfront home, which is scheduled to open on Jan. 2. "I'll play 45 minutes a night if I have to," Hardaway says. "We just want to be ready for the playoffs. If we're healthy going into the playoffs, watch out. Even if we get the Knicks in the first round, we're going to bust their asses. I don't care who we get. We're going to win."

If Miami wins, Hardaway will get redemption, an NBA ring and, most likely, a fat new deal that allows him to finish his career in a Heat uniform. Then maybe he'll also get a new mural on a downtown building.

Continue Story
1 2