After Michael Jordan and his friends vanquished the Heat in the
Eastern Conference finals, many of Miami's veterans departed for
the summer with a small measure of satisfaction. They had, after
all, upended the Knicks in the semifinals, unnerving New York
with the same physical style that had long been the trademark of
Charles Oakley, Patrick Ewing et al. Sure, five Knicks had
helped Miami's cause by getting suspended for leaving the bench
during a fight, but who ever expected the Heat to reach the
semis? Wasn't that cause for celebration?

But the perception that the Heat had overachieved is precisely
what irked coach Pat Riley. "If you believe an occurrence is an
aberration," Riley says, "then it becomes one." So he sent his
players home with one thought: Figure out how you can improve to
help the team. No one was spared that directive, including
center Alonzo Mourning, Miami's imposing, impulsive and
offensively limited big man. 'Zo vowed to come back to camp in
the best shape of his life, with a renewed focus and some new
moves.

Whatever strides Mourning has made remain to be seen. During the
preseason it was determined that he had a partially torn
patellar tendon in his left knee, and in late September he
underwent surgery. Mourning will miss from 10 to 25 games,
though some in the Heat organization expect Mourning back sooner
rather than later. If he misses all 25, however, it would be a
stunning blow to a young team eager to build on last season's
momentum. "These players have had success," says Riley, "but
they still don't know how to win yet. The only way to get a team
together is to be hard on one another. We need everyone here to
establish that bond."

Mourning's absence leaves a gaping hole in the middle, but it's
one the Heat can effectively plug for a while. With backup
center Isaac Austin subbing for an injured Mourning in 1996-97,
the Heat was 13-4. "I can only do what I do," Austin says. "If I
start trying to be someone else, the team is in trouble and I'm
in trouble."

Miami was expected to have a tough time adding talent because of
the cap-consuming seven-year, $105 million contract Mourning
signed two summers ago. Despite his limited flexibility, Riley
wooed shooting forward Terry Mills from the Pistons, for $2.15
million over two years, to take some pressure off Mourning on
the blocks. The 6'10" Mills hit 42.2% of his threes last year,
but he can be a defensive liability and missed much of the
exhibition season recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his
left knee. All eyes will be on him to see if he can meet Riley's
rigorous standards of conditioning and toughness.

Mills's introduction to the Heat and his new coach are not
unlike what small forward Jamal Mashburn experienced when he
arrived last February in a trade from Dallas. Mashburn went from
a system in which he was a primary offensive option to one that
provided him with 10 shots a night--if he was lucky. The
constant topic of trade rumors ever since, Mashburn struggled in
the preseason, shooting 18.2% from beyond the three-point arc,
which has been moved back to 23'9" from the hoop, apparently
beyond his range. (Fortunately for the Heat, Mills and off-guard
Voshon Lenard should have no difficulty with the new line.)

While 'Zo recuperates, point guard Tim Hardaway will assume
additional leadership, scoring and even rebounding duties.
Rejuvenated under Riley's watchful eye, Hardaway was an All-Star
last season, putting to rest any questions about his balky left
knee. Veteran swingman Dan Majerle will also figure heavily in
Miami's plans, should he recover from distress in his lower
back. In a departure from his hard-line approach to practice,
Riley has given Majerle permission to skip workouts if he's in
pain. Mourning will likely receive similar leeway upon his
return. Riley knows that to keep last season from being judged
as an aberration, he's going to need a full complement of
healthy players.

--JACKIE MACMULLAN

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH WITH MOURNING OUT, THE HEAT WILL LEAN HARD ON HARDAWAY (10) TO TAKE UP THE SLACK [Alonzo Mourning, John Sockton and Tim Hardaway in game] COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [Jamal Mashburn]
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)