Now over two decades old, the Miami Heat franchise has been just about every type of team in such little time.
They've had their rise to the top, mediocrity as a .500 team, obscurity as a cellar dweller looking for a purpose and even lengthy contender runs that have occurred more frequently in the past 10 years with the team reaching the NBA Finals twice and the Conference Finals. As opposed to the team only seeing the Conference Finals once in the first half of its history and no NBA Finals appearances.
For now though, we focus on the prosperous times of this franchise and analyze the five best seasons that the Heat have come up with since 1988. The Heat have had its fair share of winning seasons and have had more years of prosperity rather than playing below .500 ball. They're not exactly the Boston Celtics, but they still beat the history of the Los Angeles Clippers by a mile.
With hope that we'll see a full regular season next year, we take time to look at previous seasons and how they have succeeded in becoming some of the best years in franchise history.
Final record: 42-40
First round: Defeated New Orleans Hornets 4-3
Semifinals: Lost to Indiana Pacers 4-2
A personal favorite of mine, and it should be one of yours too, the 2003-'04 season seemed to be more of a dream than reality.
It was like a dream because nobody expected the Heat to perform that well. They had a decent core with sophomore Caron Butler, veterans Brian Grant and Eddie Jones and swingman Lamar Odom and then became a wild card once their first round pick in Dwyane Wade joined the mix. It certainly wasn't one of the leagues strongest cores thus the reason for not many analysts believing in this Heat team.
It didn't help that they started off the season 0-7 nor when they were 5-15 through the first quarter of the season. After dealing with those early chemistry issues, the team finally righted the ship and went on an impressive run where they would finish off the season on a 17-5 run that spanned from the beginning of March until the end of the season.
After starting out 5-15, the Heat would finish the season on a 37-25 run.
Once the Heat entered the postseason as a No. 4 seed, it was rookie Dwyane Wade who would assume complete control of the veteran laden squad. He would hit a game winner in the first postseason game of his career and would lead the team to a seven game series win over the New Orleans Hornets with each team winning at home.
Then things got tough once they had to take on the heavily favored, No. 1 seeded Indiana Pacers. The Pacers would take the first two games in Indiana with ease, but would then run into a buzz saw in Miami that would include a seven point Game 3 victory and an even more impressive 12 point victory in Game 4.
Unfortunately, the Heat would lose the next two games and would be ultimately eliminated. Nevertheless, it was an inspiring run from the Heat where Dwyane Wade proved that he was future elite material.
Final record: 59-23
First round: Defeated New Jersey Nets 4-0
Semifinals: Defeated Washington Wizards 4-0
Conference Finals: Lost to Detroit Pistons 4-3
This team should have been the first to win a championship.
Unfortunately, when a star player can barely perform because of a rib injury, your chances go slim.
It was in Wade's sophomore season that Pat Riley and the Miami Heat organization made the biggest splash of the 2004 summer by overhauling the team to bring in former Los Angeles Laker and three-time champion Shaquille O'Neal. With O'Neal now on the team, the Heat could then legitimately contend for a title for the first time in nearly a decade.
The team didn't have too much superstar talent outside of O'Neal and Wade, with the rest of the starting lineup being filled out by former O'Neal teammate Eddie Jones, three-point specialist Damon Jones and another sophomore in Udonis Haslem. Even with the lack of talent and depth, having O'Neal was enough to throw defenses off and leave wide open shot opportunities for the plethora of shooters.
Miami would secure its first No. 1 seed in franchise history after winning 59 games and would continue its onslaught of the NBA by going 8-0 in its first two series. They would take on the powerhouse Pistons in the Conference Finals and would take a 3-2 series lead before Wade was injured so drastically that he would have to sit out Game 6.
Wade would have had to sit out at least a week during the regular season, but managed to return for Game 7 back home. Unfortunately, it just wasn't enough as Wade couldn't perform up to his usual standards and the Heat would ultimately lose.
Final record: 61-21
First round: Defeated Orlando Magic 3-2
Semifinals: Defeated New York Knicks 4-3
Conference Finals: Lost to Chicago Bulls 4-1
There have been a number of superstars on this Miami Heat team that have made their way on to the American Airlines Arena hardwood, but none could complete what Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway and a stacked team could do in the 1995-'96 season.
Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh all have never gotten the Heat to a record better than 61-21. We suspect that James, Bosh and Wade have the potential to break that record in time, but for now it is a part of Heat history that has stood out for nearly the past 15 years.
Playing in their first full season together and surrounded by an impressive cast of role players that includes P.J. Brown, Jamal Mashburn and Voshon Lenard, 'Zo and Hardaway would dominate the NBA throughout the regular season with one of the league's stingiest defenses. They finished third overall in points per game allowed by giving up only 89 points per.
With Hardaway controlling the tempo with his undeniable speed and Mourning commanding the paint, the Heat had suddenly become a championship contender overnight.
The postseason wasn't at all easy for the Heat though as they avoided a huge scare from the Orlando Magic in the first round and would need a couple of key New York Knick players to be suspended as well as a three game winning streak just to make their way out of the semifinals. The run would come to an end though once they took on the defending world champions in the Chicago Bulls, who would defeat the Heat in five games.
Final record: 58-24
First round: Defeated Philadelphia 76ers 4-1
Semifinals: Defeated Boston Celtics 4-1
Conference Finals: Defeated Chicago Bulls 4-1
NBA Finals: Lost to Dallas Mavericks 4-2
A roller coaster ride of a season that came a few miscues and a disappearance away from triumph, the 2010-'11 season proved to be a perfect precursor for seasons to come from this new look Miami Heat squad.
Featuring Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh playing together for the first time, the three players were heavily hyped throughout the offseason and were even being predicted as one of the best teams to ever be assembled before even playing a game. These predictions went down the drain really quick as the team lost eight of their first 17 games.
They would then follow that up with an impressive streak by winning 20 of their next 21 games. The team would continue to impress and regress at times with no clear indication that they were going to succeed in the postseason since they hadn't had too much success against elite opponents during the regular season.
They were a combined 1-7 against the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls, the two teams holding the one and three seeds in the East.
Somehow, the Heat appeared to be a completely different team once the postseason rolled around. They appeared motivated and confident and it led them to three easy series wins over quality opponents in Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago.
Then the hype died down once again. The Heat started out the Finals with a bang by taking Game 1, but then blew a huge fourth quarter lead in Game 2 that could have given them a 2-0 series lead heading to Dallas. The Mavericks would continue to persist and would win three of the next four games to take the championship.
It was a disappointing end, but it left a lot of hope for the future from these three players and the teams two top bench contributors in Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem who were injured for the majority of the season.
Final record: 52-30
First round: Defeated Chicago Bulls 4-2
Semifinals: Defeated New Jersey Nets 4-1
Conference Finals: Defeated Detroit Pistons 4-2
NBA Finals: Defeated Dallas Mavericks 4-2
2005 was supposed to be the Miami Heat's year. Not as many people expected the Heat to go right on out and do the same thing the very next season considering the 11-10 start and the stepping down of coach Stan Van Gundy.
With Pat Riley now in control of a team that appeared to be in turmoil, the Heat could, and would, get down to business.
Still led by the dynamic duo of Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal, they were joined by a plethora of veterans in Jason Williams, Gary Payton, Antoine Walker and James Posey. It was a vast improvement from the roster the season before, but it was an extremely dangerous move considering how many ego's that the organization had actually brought on to one team.
Surprisingly enough, the team persisted through an above average regular season that saw them finish off the year going 41-20 en route to a No. 2 seed. The postseason run wasn't easy as it was the previous year as it took them six games to dispel of an up-and-coming Chicago Bulls squad and five to get of the upset minded New Jersey Nets before encountering the Detroit Pistons one more time.
Even without home court advantage this time around, the Heat made short work of their Eastern Conference foes. Miami would take home court advantage with a win in Detroit in Game 1 and would go on to win the rest of its home games without any injuries to any star players.
They would then meet up in a historical battle that pitted two teams that had never been to an NBA Finals before. With both teams being hungry for a title, the battle lasted longer than anyone anticipated especially after the first two games. Dallas took the first two games at home with ease and appeared well on its way to a Game 3 win if not for Dwyane Wade willing the team back to an unbelievable two point victory that was capped off by a game winner from Payton.
The Heat would then dominate Game 4 before just barely beating the Mavericks in Game 5 with an overtime victory that they win would by one point. They would finish off the job with a Game 6 win back in Dallas that they would take by three points. Wade would be awarded a deserving Finals MVP award after averaging 35 points per contest.
Follow John Friel on twitter @JohnFtheheatgod