Tonight is the last night of the 2016-17 regular season for the Miami Heat. Fans have grown accustomed to this time of year as just the beginning, not the end, of all the fun. But we won't know until after tonight if the Heat will get to continue playing: Miami needs to beat the Washington Wizards, and the Bulls or Pacers must end up with a loss.
The Heat has made the playoffs 19 times and hoisted the trophy three times, in 2006, 2012, and 2013. Throughout the years, the team has seen some crushing lows and some skyscraper-level highs in the postseason. Here are five favorites:
5. 1992: Heat lost to Bulls 3-0 in first round
Miami was a playoff virgin until 1992, when the Heat got molly-whopped by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the first round. The result didn't even matter back then: Heat fans were on cloud nine for their team simply being in the playoffs. The Heat lost by 19 in Game 1 and 30 in Game 2, but in Game 3, Miami put up a fight. The matchup was the first home playoff game in the history of the Heat. More than 15,000 attendees packed the old pink elephant Miami Arena to watch the Heat pull out to a 33-19 first-quarter lead.
The Bulls would eventually close out the Heat 119-114, but Heat fans will always remember their first time.
4. 2004: Heat lost to Pacers 4-2 in semifinals
Dwyane Wade's first playoff game ended with him hitting a running jumper with 1.3 seconds left against the New Orleans Hornets. From that point on, everything else sort of felt like a bonus. The 2004 Heat team is regarded as one of the most fun in franchise history, and watching Wade come up big in his first appearance on the big stage felt like the first fun moment of many great years to come. Miami came damn close to knocking off the Indiana Pacers in the next round, but the effort alone from the 2004 Heat team had fans excited about what that group of players could do.
Well, the Heat blew that team up in the Shaquille O'Neal trade, so Heat fans never found out. The team ended up OK, though. Regardless of the final outcome, 2004 was undeniably one of the greatest years in Heat history.
3. 2013: Heat beat Spurs 4-3 in finals
Whenever a playoff run includes arguably the greatest single moment in NBA playoff history, it's pretty memorable. The Heat's 2013 campaign to defend its 2012 title was the most stressful six months in sports. Countless Heat fans lost days, if not weeks or months, of their lives because of this team and this playoff run. "The Shot" by Ray Allen to save the Heat's season in Game 6 of the finals will never be topped. It is peak sports. It is the closest you will ever get to snorting sports and taking it directly into your bloodstream. The title the Heat would go on to win in Game 7 (an all-time game in its own right) was nice, but this moment will forever go down as one of the greatest in any sport.
2. 2006: Heat beat Mavericks 4-2 in finals
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Just as Heat fans will never forget the first playoff series against Michael Jordan and the Bulls, they will equally remember the franchise's first title run. The moment Dwyane Wade tossed the basketball into the sky as the final moments ticked off against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 6 will forever be a monumental part of South Florida sports. This Heat squad was the first NBA team to actually take over the town. Even back when Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway were winning 50 games a season, local fans never quite took their eyes off Dan Marino. This Heat team took over the city's consciousness. Before the Big Three, this was peak sports. Hall-of-famers teaming up to win a basketball title in Miami? Huh?
It happened. Until this point, all the Magic City really had in its recent history were a couple of weird Marlins titles and some Hurricanes moments that came and went. This was new, and it was amazing.
1. 2012: Heat beat Thunder 4-1 in finals
This was the greatest Miami Heat team of all time. Period. This Heat team came back for revenge after losing in the finals to the Dallas Mavericks the previous year, and — holy shit — did the Miami squad get itself some redemption. The "Heatles" blew through the entire NBA all season and then completely manhandled the overmatched Oklahoma City Thunder in the finals. The LeBron James cramp game? The final game that included a barrage of three-pointers in what is probably the greatest quarter of Miami Heat basketball? Finally living up to all the hype surrounding the Big Three? Getting the monkey off LeBron's back? All of those moments made for the best season in Miami Heat history and the greatest playoff run Miami sports fans will likely ever witness.