HOT SHOTS THE MIAMI HEAT TURNED IT UP A NOTCH TO WIN 14 STRAIGHT ON THE ROAD AND FUEL A SURPRISING 24-8 START

January 13, 1997

The Miami Heat was on its way to an afternoon practice in
Phoenix last month when the team bus passed Majerle's Sports
Grill, the restaurant owned by Heat swingman Dan Majerle, who
played seven years for the Phoenix Suns. Miami coach Pat Riley
quickly weighed a few facts: The Heat had won a grueling,
double-overtime road game against the Sacramento Kings the night
before, his team was in the midst of a six-game Western road
trip and point guard Tim Hardaway was weakened by the flu.
Practice, Riley decided, was not what his players needed most.
As the bus arrived at the arena parking lot he tapped the driver
on the shoulder and told him to turn around and head back to
Majerle's. Practice was canceled. Riley was taking his team to
lunch.

As it turned out, Riley didn't have to dig into his deep pockets
to pay the bill, because the meal was on the house, including
his own order, Riley's Cool Ranch Pizza, a pie topped with
chicken that Majerle had recently added to the menu and named
after his coach. (Some guys will do anything for playing time.)
But Riley did take care of the tip, dropping $200 on the table
as he left.

The Heat went on to beat the Suns 87-84 the next night, thus
completing a typical episode of Miami's life on the road this
season: free-spending, impromptu and highly successful. The most
remarkable aspect of the Heat's stunning start--at week's end
the team was 24-8 and in first place in the Atlantic
Division--was its 14-game road winning streak, the third longest
in NBA history, two short of the league record set by the
1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers during their record 33-game winning
streak, and one short of the 15 straight won by the 1994-95 Utah
Jazz. The Miami run was stopped by an 83-80 loss to the Jazz
last Saturday night, the opener of a tough four-game trip in
which the Heat would also be tested by the Seattle SuperSonics,
the Portland Trail Blazers and the Lakers. But Miami's 16-3 road
mark through Sunday demonstrates that Riley, a highly
sought-after corporate speaker in the off-season, had discovered
the secret to a productive business trip.

The Heat's road success was probably due more to Hardaway's
return to All-Star caliber play, P.J. Brown's emergence as a
solid starter at power forward, the resurrection of Majerle's
career and center Alonzo Mourning's scowling presence in the
middle than it was to the fact that the team spares no expense
on the road--or at home, for that matter. But it is worth noting
that on its trips, Miami lives the life of Riley. The Chicago
Bulls are the only team that comes close to matching the Heat's
ritzy accommodations, which may not win it any games, but as
Hardaway notes, "A little extra fluff in the pillow at night
can't hurt." At Riley's request last season, Miami owner Mickey
Arison also provided the Heat with a luxurious new team plane.
Arison, chairman and CEO of Carnival Corporation (owner of the
cruise lines), obviously knows the importance of traveling in
style.

But the Heat lived like kings last season and it didn't keep the
team from playing like commoners when hit by injuries,
especially a torn tendon in Mourning's left foot that forced him
to miss 12 games. The most encouraging sign for Miami this year
is that it has overcome similar health problems, which is where
the improvising has come in. Riley has unearthed a pair of
unexpected contributors in 6'10" center Isaac Austin, who a year
ago weighed 340 pounds (he's down to 257) and was playing in
Turkey, and guard Voshon Lenard, who began last season with the
Oklahoma City Cavalry of the CBA. Austin has been invaluable as
a backup to Mourning, and Lenard has emerged as a perimeter
threat, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers on a jumper at the
buzzer in win number 10 of the road streak. "It almost doesn't
seem to matter who plays," says Majerle. "Anyone who's out there
is going to play tough defense and concentrate because that's
what Coach has drilled into us. When we walk into a gym, we know
the other team has not outworked us or outprepared us."

But the adjustments Riley has had to make during the season are
nothing compared with the one he had to make before the season
started. Last July he signed prized free-agent forward Juwan
Howard to a seven-year, $101 million contract only to see
commissioner David Stern void the deal after ruling that Riley
had miscalculated his salary-cap room. Howard then returned to
his original team, the Washington Bullets. The deal was only one
of the parts that didn't work out in Riley's master plan for
building the Heat into a championship contender. Indeed, the
current roster is largely his Plan B. The Heat would not have
signed Majerle as a free agent if it had kept Howard, and
Hardaway was re-signed only after Miami lost to the SuperSonics
in the bidding war for free-agent point guard Gary Payton.
Brown, another free-agent acquisition, who played last season
for the New Jersey Nets, was to be Howard's backup; instead he
is a starter. "You look at Howard," says Jazz vice president
Scott Layden, "and you have to wonder what Miami's future would
have been."

If Riley allows himself such musings, he isn't saying. In fact,
he isn't saying much of anything about his team's surprising
success. He was reluctant to comment last week for fear of
patting his team or himself on the back prematurely, sending
word through the team's media relations staff that he wished to
limit his contact with the national media because he wanted his
team to keep a low profile. "We're not ready to beat our chests
about anything yet," he said last Saturday, perhaps remembering
that last year's team started off 11-3 and then needed a
late-season rally to finish 42-40 and secure the last Eastern
Conference playoff spot.

But the bad news for the Heat players is that their foes are
already wise to them. "You've got to consider them a real
contender," says Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich. "When
your foundation is built on defense, like theirs is, and you've
got a presence inside, a very good point guard and some good
spot shooters, you have to be considered legit. You look at
their box scores, and they're holding people down. [Through
Sunday, Miami was allowing 86.9 points per game, fourth lowest
in the league.] That's a strong foundation."

There are still a significant number of nonbelievers, however,
those who put the Heat, at best, on a level below the title
contenders. "I don't think Miami is as good as us, Chicago,
Seattle or Utah," says Houston forward Charles Barkley. It's
true that the Heat's record could prove to be misleading--six
wins on a Western road trip in November came against, in order,
the Denver Nuggets, the Vancouver Grizzlies, the Kings, the
Suns, the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers.
That's no Murderers' Row.

But one reason the Heat is not likely to fade the way it did a
year ago is that several key players are channeling their anger
over personal snubs into maintaining a high level of play. Even
though he averaged 17.2 points and 10 assists in 28 games after
Golden State traded him to Miami last season, Hardaway agreed to
take a pay cut from the $3.7 million he earned last year to
re-sign with Miami. "What I'm getting is a million less than I
got last year," he says of the deal offered by the Heat after
the bulk of the team's free-agent money had been spent on other
players. "I got screwed, but I understand it. It's no bitter
taste in my mouth. Business is business."

And Hardaway has been nothing short of sensational, averaging
19.1 points and 7.7 assists at week's end. He is quicker, thanks
in part to the loss of 15 pounds, and he's tough and hungry for
the ball with the game on the line. Hardaway's signature
performance came on Dec. 29 against the Bucks in Milwaukee, on a
night when Majerle and Mourning were injured and Miami dressed
only eight players. Hardaway took control in the fourth quarter,
scoring 18 points to lead Miami to a 95-94 win.

Then there's Majerle, 31, who was widely thought to be nearing
the end of his career and whose scoring average had declined
each of the last five seasons, from 17.3 in 1991-92 to 10.6 last
year, when he played with the Cavaliers. "I never thought I was
done, although most people did," he says. When Cleveland didn't
offer Majerle the multiyear contract he thought he deserved, he
joined the Heat for $8 million over three years. A tough
defender who doesn't shy away from contact, Majerle has been a
perfect fit in Riley's system, while averaging 12.7 points
through Sunday.

The Heat's other key free agent, the 6'11" Brown, also feels he
has something to prove. When John Calipari took over as Nets
coach and executive vice president of basketball operations last
summer, he said he had to rid the team of its mediocrity, so he
didn't try to keep Brown, forward Armon Gilliam or guard Chris
Childs. Brown took offense and apparently still does. "As far as
mediocrity, I feel like it's still there," he says of New
Jersey, which was 8-21 at week's end.

No one is more adept at stoking those kinds of fires than Riley.
"I swear, every one of his [pregame speeches] has been
inspirational," Majerle says. Against Sacramento, when Kings
guard Mitch Richmond hit a three-pointer to tie the game at the
end of the first overtime, the Miami players returned to the
bench deflated. Riley took out one of his trademark blue index
cards and wrote three words: FOR MEN ONLY. Miami won in the
second overtime.

Riley's early transformation of the Heat is reminiscent of the
job he did with the Knicks for four seasons through '94-95,
taking a team with a few building blocks, ratcheting up its
defense and turning it into a big winner faster than anyone
expected. While he has a proven system, he is willing to adjust
it when necessary. He's never been in love with the three-point
shot--"I think if you live by that shot, you die by it," he has
said--but the Heat possesses so many outside marksmen,
particularly Hardaway, Lenard, Majerle and shooting guard Sasha
Danilovic, that he has loosened the reins on treys. Through
Sunday only Houston had more three-point attempts than Miami's
698.

The one place where the Heat has a low profile and doesn't want
one is Miami, where it still plays before significant numbers of
empty seats. The Heat has sold out the 15,200-seat Miami Arena
only five times this season. Some of the players aren't happy
with the tepid support of the fans who do attend. Mourning, who
always seems to be angry about something, vented his wrath at
the spectators on one occasion last month. "When things aren't
going well for us, we get booed and hissed," he said. "That goes
to show you, we're playing better when we're away from those
people."

Or maybe the fans just figured out that the best way to help
their team of road warriors is not to make them feel at home.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID LIAM KYLE Spurned by Cleveland, Majerle landed in Miami, where he has added drive and defense. [Dan Majerle]COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES A trimmer Hardaway (opposite) used insult as his catalyst, while the irate Mourning (33) has rejected Heat fans for nonsupport. [Tim Hardaway] COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBA PHOTOS [See caption above--Alonzo Mourning blocking opponent's shot]

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