Heat playoff history: Pat Riley built the ship, but Erik Spoelstra is captaining the Big 3

Doug Benc

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh chase their second championship in their three years together.

To reach the point where the Miami Heat dismantle doubters to LeBron James' "Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven" speech, they'll need to win a second NBA title. It appears too tall of a task, no matter how legitimate the Big Three dynasty of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh might become.

Regardless, the first NBA Championship was all that was necessary to silence the naysayers. The title was a reckoning that a three-headed monster could indeed back up the talk.

The Big Three is 1-for-2. And if the regular season that included a 27-game winning streak and the NBA's best record is telling enough, the Miami is ready to win its second title in three years.

At a larger glance, the the Heat franchise will make its ninth postseason run in the last 10 years. The 2007-08 squad that went a miserable 15-67 in the regular season stands alone as the only postseason miss. And going back to the beginnings of Pat Riley's influence on the Heat, the franchise has only missed the postseason three times since 1995-96.

Although Riley built the ship, it's clear that coach Erik Spoelstra is the one captaining it these days.

The Riley protégé led the Heat to the postseason in 2009 and 2010 as Miami rebounded from its horrific 2007-08 run. In Spoelstra's first season as head coach, the Heat fell in a seven-game series to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. The next year, 2010, Miami only mustered one victory in the first round in a 4-1 series loss to the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics.

The two years leading into the Big Three era might as well have been a very important crash course in coaching for Spoelstra, who now at only 42 years old has quickly established himself as more than a lucky bystander to the talent Riley has assembled.

The offseason of 2010, of course, set the Heat up for today. Miami re-signed Wade and added James and Bosh.

Many forget the Heat cruised through few growing pains in the 2011 playoffs by winning their first three series in five games each. That set them up for a NBA Finals matchup with the Dallas Mavericks, where they faltered after winning the first two of three games. Dallas won in six, and though Spoelstra caught flak, it was only right that Miami come back stronger the next season.

Once punched in the mouth, the Heat grew more comfortable in 2011-12 -- not only with one another but in taking such hits and responding to them. In last season's playoffs, Miami beat the Knicks in five games, the Pacers in six and finally the Celtics in seven to reach the finals. A final blow came in a Game 1 loss to the Thunder.

The Heat responded by reeling off four straight wins to take the 2012 NBA Title with authority.

For Miami to enter the 2013 playoffs while sending the same tremors of fear through the NBA is a credit to the Big Three, which includes one of the most dynamic players to ever play in James. It's also a nod to Riley putting the Big Three -- not to mention the additions of Shane Battier, Ray Allen, etc. -- together.

But it's more importantly a clue Spoelstra isn't just piggybacking on a successful franchise. He has his players' ears, to the detriment of any opponents crossing the Heat's path.

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