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Feeling Better 'Bout Heat?

Feeling a bit better about the Miami Heat these days? Celtics Heat Wade

You probably should. Judging by the way the Eastern Conference playoffs are playing out, there's plenty of reason to feel a bit better than you did when the Heat's season crashed and burned in Boston three weeks ago.

That same Celtics team that pushed past the Heat with a 4-1 series victory has since caused the so-called King's collapse in Cleveland and has the Magic in the midst of a disappearing act via a 2-0 deficit in the conference finals.

Now while it's still a bit too soon to jump to any conclusions, it's OK to leap to an assumption.

So here's one: the Heat probably isn't as far away from competing with the conference's elite in the East as it seemed not so long ago.

Boston's run through the playoffs - after finishing the second half of the season with a .500 record - has proved at least two things so far.

One, only a Kevin Garnett knee injury last season will have prevented the Celtics from making three straight trips to the NBA Finals when it's all said and done this season.

And two, Dwyane Tyrone Wade Jr. is the single greatest player the Celtics have faced over the past three seasons. And that includes the 2008 team that defeated Kobe Bryant in the Finals and the 2010 squad that humbled and humiliated two-time league MVP LeBron James in the previous round.

No, there are no moral victories when it comes to basketball at this level. You either have the talent, teamwork, coaching and execution to get it done. Or you don't.

And clearly, the Heat didn't have enough of those elements to get it done during its first-round series loss to Boston this season. But when factoring in how things have played out since then, there should be a bit more appreciation and perspective when it comes to what Wade is, has been and should continue to be.

He might never win an MVP. But it should be obvious that he is the hardest-working man in the NBA.

You could roll out a number of "ifs" in the aftermath of Miami's postseason demise.

If Jermaine O'Neal could have given the Heat more in the postseason than 1.1 point per million earned.

If Michael Beasley could have produced at the same rate during games as he pouted afterward.

Game5-second If Quentin Richardson's biggest contribution was something other than using his face to punch the heck out of Kevin Garnett's elbow to land that suspension for K.G.

If coach Erik Spoelstra would have just kept Yakhouba Diawara on the bench in that final regular season game. Instead Khoubs was allowed to express his frustration with the rotation by banking in that three-pointer that doomed the Heat into a first-round series against Boston instead of Atlanta.

If, if, if.

But you know what they ultimately say about "ifs." If if was a fifth of your favorite adult beverage, we'd all blow three times the legal limit if stopped on the drive home.

But here's one "if" that should be a sobering reality.

If Wade had just a bit more help - not even a major roster makeover around him, just a bit more help - what might have become of the Heat in that first-round series against clearly the best team in the East?

Perhaps the Heat would have held onto that 14-point third-quarter lead in Game 1 at Boston and returned home with a 1-1 series split.

Perhaps Wade would have relied more on a trusted and proven sidekick down the stretch in Game 3 instead of trying to do everything on a bad leg that eventually gave out moments before Paul Pierce's buzzer-beating jumper.

You saw what Wade was able to do in Game 4. So right there, not even two full quarters of basketball were the difference between the Heat being up 3-1 to being down by that much against the Boston bullies.

As it is, Wade averaged 33 points - his second-highest average in any postseason series, and shot his best playoff percentage against any opponent in the Boston series.

What I'm saying is, in hindsight, Miami played these Celtics as good - if not better - than any team they've faced so far in these playoffs.

So think about that as the Heat moves forward into this offseason makeover process.

As long as Wade re-signs as expected, Miami might not be a home run (Wade, plus two max free agents)  Riley-Lookingup away from getting back to a championship level.

Even if Pat Riley were to swing and miss at a free-agent priority or two (LeBron and Bosh or Amare), he could still hit a double (Felton/Bosh or Boozer/Johnson) and essentially erase the gap between the Heat and the so-called upper-echelon in the East.

Looking back about three weeks ago, you simply felt for Miami.

But looking forward, considering what's transpired since, there's reason to feel a bit better about the Heat.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports. To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)




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