FEEL THE BURN THE HEAT WAVERED BEFORE MAKING THE MAGIC DISAPPEAR

May 11, 1997

Sunday's winner looked like a beaten man. Sunday's winner walked
off an interview platform in Miami hollow-eyed, drained,
doubting. He still wore his Master of the Universe duds, the
trappings of someone who has won many titles in his life; he
had, in fact, just led his franchise to its first victory in a
playoff series. But Miami Heat coach Pat Riley had the look of
someone who had just walked away from a six-car smashup. Things
were different now, and he knew it. He drifted into a hallway of
the still-emptying Miami Arena and collided with Orlando Magic
general manager John Gabriel, whose team the Heat had just
eliminated in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Riley tried
to say the usual nice words. Here was all he could manage: "I've
never been in one quite like this. It was harrowing for me."

This is what the NBA playoffs do. They take a team like the
Heat--a 61-game winner with two All-Stars, a league-leading road
record, a coach feared and respected by all--and shake it to its
foundations. A week ago, when Miami left this building after
Game 2 of the first-round series, it seemed to be on an
unstoppable roll. Led by point guard Tim Hardaway, the Heat had
won the first two games by an average of 26 points. But by the
time Miami finally buttoned up the series in Game 5, its aura of
invincibility was gone. The Heat had been revealed as an
inexperienced crew lacking a killer instinct and, even more
stunning, Riley had been shown up by Richie Adubato, the Magic's
interim (and probably lame-duck) coach. Only two gutty jumpers
in the final 44 seconds of Game 5 by Hardaway, who until then
had shot 3 of 18, kept Miami from suffering one of the great
upsets in NBA playoff history.

"It could've been just as easy for us to lose this game--and we
didn't because of the courage of one guy," Riley said after the
Heat's 91-83 win. "We had some good performances, but it took
the courage of Tim Hardaway to be able to not only take 'em but
to make 'em when it counted most. I've been around guys like
that before who've bailed my ass out. He did, and I'm not
embarrassed to say that. I'll ride his coattails all the way to
the Finals if I can."

But first the Heat has to survive an emotional showdown with the
New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference semifinals, which were
to begin in Miami on Wednesday. If the residue of Riley's bitter
departure from New York two years ago wasn't enough to prime the
Knicks, they also had the benefit of eight days off and the
feeling that they alone in the Eastern Conference have the
Heat's number. New York won the regular-season series 3-1. After
beating the Heat 100-99 in the last of those games, in Miami on
April 12, one Knicks player yelled in the hallway outside the
Heat's locker room, "We'll be back down here in two weeks to
kick your ass."

"Instead it's three weeks," Hardaway said. The delay, of course,
was caused by the astonishing resurgence of the Magic. After
being embarrassed in Miami in the first two games of the playoff
series, Orlando went home and promptly fell down a 20-point hole
early in Game 3. Then the most fortunate thing occurred: Midway
through the second quarter, Magic center Rony Seikaly dropped to
the floor and out of the series with torn ligaments in his right
foot. That left Orlando, which was already missing power forward
Horace Grant (injured right wrist), without a premier big man,
and forced Adubato to go with a smaller, quicker lineup. Having
no choice but to rely on Derek Strong and Danny Schayes in the
post, Adubato started Brian Shaw at point guard, made Darrell
Armstrong the integral backup and moved Penny Hardaway to
off-guard--which might prove to have been a career-altering move
for the onetime heir to Magic Johnson. Hardaway scored 42 and 41
points in Orlando's wins in Games 3 and 4, firing in so many
spectacular shots that he left the Heat gaping.

"We were stunned," said Miami forward P.J. Brown. "We were like,
man, what can you do to stop these guys when they're making
shots like that?"

It was a startling role reversal for Hardaway. Before the
series, he had been tagged as someone who hadn't lived up to his
potential; worse, he was considered hypersensitive, and he was
seen as the leader of a players revolt that deposed coach Brian
Hill in February. But in just three games, Hardaway changed
those perceptions. Freed from the constraints of having to
distribute the ball, he scored at will and carried his team.
Just when the Detroit Pistons' Grant Hill seemed ready to become
his generation's preeminent player, Hardaway, who finished Game
5 with 33 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, took a giant leap
in the NBA pecking order (page 96). "He has simply proved to be
one of the game's very best," Riley said.

"People say, 'The next Jordan, the next Magic, the next
whoever,'" said Orlando forward Dennis Scott. "He's Penny
Hardaway. Ain't no next. He's arrived."

With Penny pushing, something in this series had to give. But
who figured it would be Miami's carefully constructed persona?
Neither Riley nor the Heat fully recovered from Hardaway's
onslaught in Games 3 and 4. Adubato's careful shuttling of
forwards Scott, Strong and Nick Anderson created matchup
problems that forced Riley to sit backup center Ike Austin--the
league's most improved player--for all but 10 minutes in the
final three games. Adubato also had his grossly outmanned club
better prepared than the Heat to play the final three games of
the series. Heat center Alonzo Mourning finished the decisive
game with a 22-point, 12-rebound, four-block performance, but he
disappeared against Schayes, of all people, during key stretches
of the series. An overextended Tim Hardaway struggled under
Armstrong's harassment. In the fourth quarter of Game 5, when
the Magic cut a 16-point deficit to three, "we were stumbling
around against their pressure," Riley said.

His team looked very young. "I've seen the Heat play 25 times
this year, and I didn't see anybody expose some of the things we
did," Adubato said. The Knicks saw, and Riley knows that. Things
will be different now.

"Playoffs are another animal," Riley said. "Did we just eke
this out? I don't give a damn. It's about surviving and moving
on." He wasn't jubilant as he said this. He wasn't smiling at
all.

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Hardaway was cold in Game 5, but in the end he knocked down the shots that knocked out Orlando. [Tim Hardaway and others in game]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)