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Unleashed Heat figure they might as well play to haters

by | Special to

MIAMI -- Their arrogance becomes the Miami Heat.

It looks to be a better fit with each passing game, in fact. The Heat are increasingly comfortable in their role as the NBA's favorite road villains -- a label they invited from the moment LeBron James and Chris Bosh used free agency to ditch Cleveland and Toronto to join Dwyane Wade in Miami. And they've come a long way since a 9-8 season's start, which drew widespread, mocking criticism of the union.

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At first, the Heat seemed surprised by the level of gleeful animosity directed toward them whenever they were away from home. It was a strange reaction, given James' ill-advised choice to reveal his move to Miami during a made-for-television interview in the first place. The Decision, indeed. It was an exercise in pomposity is what it was. And then came an over-the-top introductory celebration in the AmericanAirlines Arena home of the Heat, during which James, Bosh and Wade preened and posed their way to promising multiple championships.

The counting stopped at seven, if memory serves.

Now, though, they've come to "embrace the hate" -- Bosh's words Thursday afternoon on the upstairs practice court at Triple-A -- and consider themselves much the better for it. Their proof is a current 19-1 run since a cathartic meeting after a late November loss in Dallas, during which they took on each other ... and then set about taking on the league. The Heat have seemed more cohesive on the offensive end of the floor since then, but their dominance, including a 10-0 road record in December, has been rooted in what can only be called an angry defensive approach to things.

"Our identity," said coach Erik Spoelstra.

LeBron James gets no love in his first game back in Cleveland. (Getty Images)  
LeBron James gets no love in his first game back in Cleveland. (Getty Images)  
What would anyone expect from a franchise with defensive guru Pat Riley's fingerprints all over it? It's how he coached. It's what he dictates from his president's chair.

But it's the Heat glamour pusses who sell out road venues from coast to coast, and there's more than a little of that ol' Showtime glitz for which the Lakers once were so well-known and with which they once were so successful under Riley. The offense in full swing or at full throttle can be a thing of beauty, which might be why James has taken to calling his gang The Heatles in reference to the rock-band atmosphere the team generates with its bags packed.

Not everyone thought the comparison appropriate.

"Let me clear this up," James said. "Let me clear up another statement, which I'm sick and tired of doing. I was asked a question: 'How do you feel about selling out arenas every night?' Listen to this: 'How do you feel about selling out road arenas every night, at 99.9 percent?' I said, 'I feel like it's great. I feel like the Beatles when we hit the road.' And everyone knows when the Beatles hit the road, it was a huge spectacle.

"I never compared us to how many records they sold or how world-renowned the Beatles were. You know what? That's the last time I'm clarifying my words. It's getting out of control."

Another tour with five gigs in nine nights began Friday in Milwaukee and takes them to Portland, Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago, where full houses await.

They'll get no love, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Wade's estimate was that he and his teammates will hear "20,000 boos" a night, and won't mind a bit if the Heat departs an arena wrapped in the sounds of silence or the anger of defeat.

"We want them to take lasting memories," said Wade, whose wicked grin was as revealing as his words.

And that's it, really. It's always a theatrical production with these guys. The switch always has to be flipped.

Every win has to be big. Every big win has to be a show. Every show has to be spectacular.

That's entertainment!

But the Heat's constant motivation, according to Bosh, is the memory of how so many reviewers were "aggressive and opinionated right off the bat" in judging the Miami experiment to have been a failure less than a quarter of the way through the season.

Spoelstra agreed.

"I like it when your team has a little bit of anxiety," he said. "I don't want to lose that state of mind."

The Heat don't figure to. Not now. Not after the trials endured so far.

How much that matters and how much they have left to learn about themselves is the question. They'll sail past the halfway point of the season during the upcoming road trip, and it's all a prelude to the proving ground of the playoffs, where success and failure is for keeps.

The hatred will be venomous, and the Heat's arrogance as its best emotional weapon will have been steeled by then.

How long will the band play on?


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