The eighth-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Heat have gone from the brink of play-in elimination to knocking off the top-seeded Bucks, the Knicks and the Celtics.
And now they have wrested home-court advantage away from Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets.
“Everything they do here is about winning. It’s not about anything else. So we ride with that. We think about that,” Jimmy Butler said. “The best part about this squad is we’re in it for right now, every single day. That’s what the Heat Culture is about.
“Everybody that walks through this door … you have to buy into everything that we’re about here, which is about one another, not about you, and about winning. If you can do that, you can handle all of that, you’re going to flourish here.”
It started with the Heat’s 2006 crown, with Riley as head coach, the first of three titles Miami has won.
He laid down the winning DNA that current head coach Spoelstra has honed over the years, finding players willing to sacrifice self for team.
“Getting guys to get into roles, buy into something that’s bigger than themselves, that’s the most important thing when you’re trying to build a team that can contend for a championship,” Spoelstra said. “It’s elusive. It’s tough. … You try to get guys that really care about winning more than anything, even if they have to sacrifice, understanding that that’s a prerequisite, that you have to sacrifice.”
The six-time All-Star with a ring and Hall of Fame credentials subjugated his ego for the greater good.
An injury had cost him five weeks, during which he had a sit-down with Riley about being at his most fit when it was most important — like now, versus the Nuggets.
“It was just making sure I was healthy for an opportunity, if we got on a run like we’ve been,” Lowry said. “That’s the biggest thing, is the opportunity to be healthy, to help the group, no matter what it is.“It was a great conversation. … A guy like Pat having your back is a good feeling. It’s a good guy to have back there.”
It isn’t just about playing hard, but being able to play smarter because of the preparation the Heat put in during the regular season and offseason.
The Nuggets are clearly more talented, but they lost Game 2 because, when their discipline broke down, Miami’s didn’t.
And even as Jokic varied the depth of his defensive coverages, not just between games but during the game, the Heat weren’t rattled because they were ready.
“This is that level. It’s the finals,” Spoelstra said. “That’s what is required.”
That sums up Heat Culture: whatever is required.
Most teams have some token zone defense in their repertoire, but Miami’s shape-shifting zone is such an effective weapon because it has been perfected with every possible permutation of lineup over the years, from Andre Iguodala at the top to Gabe Vincent.
The Heat effortlessly switch their zone defense from 2-3 to 3-2 to 1-3-1 with a top-flight defender in the nail.
“We drill it to nausea, to the point where we’re tired of it,” Bam Adebayo said. “But we also have that in our back pocket just in case we need it.”
They needed it to beat Boston, and it was huge in pulling out the Game 2 win at Denver, negating Jamal Murray and Jokic’s playmaking.
“They’re a really intelligent team,” Jokic said. “They have really smart players … who can read the moment and read the game. They can just morph in some different zones.
“As a team, they know what they want to give up. They’re really intelligent, from the coach to the players.”
That working intelligence is what sums up Heat Culture.