Since Day One, the LeBron James-led Miami Heat have been under the microscope everywhere they go, every time they play.
But when the NBA’s top team hit the hardwood at the University of San Francisco on Monday for its first full practice of the new year, it carried itself with the composure of a veteran squad accustomed to the glare of the spotlight.
The Heat will look to nab their ninth win in the season’s first 10 games tonight as they tangle with the Warriors at Oracle Arena in Oakland. The team’s blazing start is a stark contrast from last season’s first nine games, when it posted an unimpressive 5-4 record and had every talking head questioning whether it was worth the hype.
While many pundits credit James’ renewed offensive explosiveness (he’s currently averaging 30.2 points per game), fourth-year coach Erik Spoelstra said the team is also benefiting from having faced intense media scrutiny all of last year.
"When you go through a lot of adversity, it makes you stronger and closer," Spoelstra said. "Now, we’re able to focus on our game and just trying to improve."
Through 82 games and four rounds of playoffs, the Heat were the league’s supervillain in every NBA city last year. After living through possibly the most scrutinized season in the history of professional sports, guard Dwyane Wade said the team can now handle anything.
"We can’t go through nothing worse than what we went through last year — and we were just two games away from our goal," said Wade, who is questionable for tonight’s game with an ankle injury.
Veteran Juwan Howard said despite the wealth of talent the team puts on the court every night, it’s the focus and resiliency that sets the Heat apart.
"Our mental toughness is off the charts," he said. "We could complain about how we’re perceived through the media as the bad guys, but we don’t. We just go out there and play."
Free-agent acquisition Shane Battier said he was prepared for the possibility of a soap opera when he signed with the Heat last December, but so far he’s been blown away by the team’s professionalism.
"It’s a very businesslike atmosphere," he said. "We like to have fun, but we’re about work."