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Heat know the biggest tests are still ahead

May 15, 2014

MIAMI (AP) — When this core of Miami Heat players was assembled, the only stated goal was winning NBA titles.

That explains why even getting through the first two rounds of these playoffs basically unscathed merited only a short celebration.

Miami is back in the Eastern Conference finals for the fourth straight season, awaiting either Indiana or Washington. The Heat got there by ousting the Brooklyn Nets in five games, the end of that series on Wednesday being briefly accompanied by a few hoots and hollers in the immediate moments after the clinching 96-94 win.

Before long, order was restored to the Heat locker room.

Two series wins are nice, but they know the road only gets tougher from here.

“To be in this position four years in a row, this is the reason we came together four years ago,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “We’ve got a lot more work to do but we’re a team that doesn’t take it for granted. We’re a team that worked very hard to get to this point, so we’re going to go to the Eastern Conference finals and continue to play as hard as we can, and try to continue to move forward.”

The Heat are 32-7 in first- and second-round games in the last four postseasons, coinciding with the start of the “Big 3” era featuring LeBron James, Wade and Chris Bosh teaming up.

That first year, even that star-studded trio wasn’t enough against Dallas. More pieces were added, like Shane Battier a year later and Ray Allen two years later, and they’ve all paid dividends since with the last two titles. Allen kept coming up big at big times in the Brooklyn series, hitting clutch free throws to seal Game 4, and then knocking down a 3-pointer with 32 seconds left to put Miami ahead for good in Game 5.

“The most important thing is to stay in the moment,” Battier said. “And I don’t there is anyone maybe in the history of the game who does it better than Ray Allen.”

Added Mario Chalmers: “That’s a great option when you know you have the all-time greatest 3-point shooter to your left.”

A year ago, the Heat needed seven games to beat Indiana in the East finals, then seven more to top San Antonio for their second straight NBA title. Thursday was a rest day for Miami, maybe one of the last ones the Heat will truly have before the season ends.

On Friday, practice restarts in earnest.

“We still have some business to take care of,” James said. “But it’s great to be able to put ourselves in position to get to where we want to go. We never shortcut the process. We understand that each and every game is going to be a challenge for us.”

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