By Brian Mahoney
The Associated Press
NORMAN — Looking for a reason not to pick the Miami Heat to win another NBA title?
Don’t check the odds, where the Heat are such an overwhelming favorite that it might as well be Tiger Woods against a weekend hacker.
Definitely don’t bother with the Heat’s results, which show exactly three losses since the start of February.
And certainly don’t look on the court, where LeBron James sent season-long reminders that he’s better than ever and already the best in the world.
The only people who might really believe in caution are the Heat themselves.
“There’s going to be trials and tribulations no matter what, no matter how good of a team you are,” Dwyane Wade said. “There’s going to be a moment in the playoffs where our back is going to be against the wall. And I think everything we’ve done this season will prepare us for that moment. We have a goal, just like every other team that gets into the playoffs, to win a championship. But we understand the process that it takes.”
It starts Saturday, when the playoffs start with four first-round games. The Heat will open Sunday against Milwaukee in what’s expected to be a quick series.
Then it will be up to someone like the Knicks, Thunder, Spurs, or some other contender, to prove that the next two months aren’t just a formality.
“They’ve had the best record and they’re the defending champs so they’re the team to beat, but I don’t think it’s much beyond that,” Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “I mean, give them their due. They have the best record and they’re the defending champs, so they’re the team that you need to beat, but no, I don’t think anybody is head and shoulders over any. There’s too many good teams.”
New York, which won three out of four from Miami, hosts Boston on Saturday in the playoff opener. The Nets welcome Chicago for the first postseason game in Brooklyn, while the Western Conference has Golden State visiting Denver, and the Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies squaring off in a first-round rematch.
On Sunday, the Lakers go to San Antonio without Kobe Bryant, and defending West champ Oklahoma City faces former Thunder star James Harden and Houston. Indiana and Atlanta meet in the other East game.
Miami faced plenty of adversity during last season’s championship run. They were down 2-1 to Indiana in the second round, with Wade struggling and Chris Bosh injured. The Celtics took a 3-2 lead in the conference finals back to Boston before James fought off elimination with a 45-point performance in Game 6, and the Thunder took the opener of the NBA Finals and nearly rallied two nights later to put the Heat in a 2-0 hole.
There is much more intrigue out West, especially in the two series involving Los Angeles teams. The Clippers and Grizzlies went seven games last year before the Clippers advanced, and this time they have the home-court advantage. The Lakers didn’t even clinch a playoff spot until Wednesday, but they won their final five games and look dangerous even without Bryant thanks to the inside play of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
The Lakers and Spurs had one of the NBA’s best postseason rivalries in the last decade, and this one could join their list of memorable series.
“We’re happy that we’re in the playoffs but we’re not done yet,” Howard said.
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