The expectations were high for Miami's Big Three last season. Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh (l-r) might be under even more pressure this time around. (AP)

By Phil Latzman 

The severe disappointment of the Miami Heat’s six-game Finals flameout still lingers. Dwyane Wade just can’t seem to turn it off.

“It comes on NBA-TV a lot too. I was watching it yesterday, and it comes out sad every time,” Wade said with a short laugh. “It hurts.”

And it hurts even more, because up until a few weeks ago, Wade was watching a lot of TV, and working out his own as the NBA  lockout ate up nearly the first two months of the season, during which the pain the pain of the Heat’s loss in the finals went undiminished.

“I always say, ‘Man, I wish I couldda done this or couldda done that,'” the former NBA MVP said.
“But then you look back and understand that it was the Dallas Mavericks’ time.”

Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra, who recently received a new contract, says the 2010-11 campaign felt unusually lengthy.

“Last season felt at time like it was two or three seasons in one with our group, with the amount that we experienced,” Spoelstra said.

But the coach, whom everyone calls Spo, calls it a bonding experience.

“If you want to fast track learning and growing with one of your teammates, you go through adversity,” Spoelstra said. “We did enough of that last year that we certainly got to know each other, especially when it was uncomfortable.”

It was particularly uncomfortable for LeBron James, who went from being the toast of Cleveland, to the roast of the rest of the league and its fans.

“It was a tough transition, you know coming here and going through what I went through,” James said. “It was something different. But I learned from it, and I’m back to where I am now.”

If you want to fast track learning and growing with one of your teammates, you go through adversity.
– Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra
Where he is now is in a “must-win” situation, with “NBA title or bust” dragging on his basketball resume.

The Heat seemed to relish the role of bad guys last year, but James hopes things could be different this time around.

“I don’t know if fans are going to cheer for us, or boo us. You know, I’m not asking for forgiveness or anything in that case,” James said. “I don’t think anything can be as bad as it was last year.We’re gonna come together as a team, and we look forward to playing here in front of our fans, and on the road as well.”

“Don’t Hate the Heat” has become a familiar refrain in Miami. Dwyane Wade also says the team wouldn’t mind improving its image.

“We have our fans, we have those who don’t care about the Heat neither. That’s fine,” Wade said. “That’s what makes road games exciting. So, we look forward to going on the road like we did last year, to hear the boos and turn ‘em in to cheers.

And according to King James, even a grueling schedule packing 66 games into just four months, won’t deter him from his appointed rounds.

“Man, I’m so excited to be back, I don’t care if we play 66 games in 66 days, I’m just so happy to be back,” James said. “Me personally, 8 games in 11 nights, I hope I can play in every last one of them.”

I don’t care if we play 66 games in 66 days. I’m just so happy to be back.
– LeBron James
First though, LeBron & Co. will relive the NBA Finals on Christmas Day in Dallas, and hope that it will be a dream rather than a nightmare.

“It will be a great atmosphere, and both teams are going to prepare that way,” James said. “You know, and the fact that they beat us in the Finals is gonna add something to it, and being that it’s Christmas, is gonna add something to it as well.”

And D-Wade says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“When I look and see the Heat playing the Mavs, I say, ‘That’s what I want to see as a fan,'” Wade said. “I take myself out of it, I want to see the Heat and the Mavericks play on Christmas Day.”

So, while basketball fans outside of South Florida may continue to hate the Heat, it’s apparent that some of NBA’s top players would love the opportunity to play here.

Citing a desire to win a championship, Miami added free agents Shane Battier and Eddy Curry to team that needs to win it all next June to be considered a success.

(Phil Latzman is a reporter for WLRN in Miami.)