Heat’s Riley Optimistic, But ‘Long Way to Go’

The Heat have the look of a champion lately, and the numbers back up their swagger.

But take if from the only person who has NBA championship rings as a player, coach and executive: Victory parades are better planned in mid-June, not before then.

That person would be team president Pat Riley, naturally.

Before everybody gets excited, we’ve got another 24 or 25 games,” Riley cautioned fans at the team-sponsored Family Festival charity event in Miami on Sunday afternoon. “We’re playing very well right now, but every day you keep ratcheting up what you need to do to get ready for what you know is going to be an incredibly competitive playoff. Right now, you have to keep in mind we have a long way to go.”

Since the start of February, the Heat own a 10-1 record, the best in the league. They haven’t just won games but dominated them. Their last five victories were by margins of 11,  22, 14, 26 and 14 points.

In the process, the Heat moved to within 2 1/2 games of the Indiana  Pacers in the race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They also are only one game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Western Conference leaders. The conference champion with the best record will have the homecourt advantage in the NBA Finals this spring.

“Everybody thinks (success) is right around the corner,” Riley said. “No, a lot of stuff can happen. We’re in homecourt-advantage races not only in the West but in the East. That’s not an objective. I think for Coach Spo (Erik Spoelstra), it is to stay on track with the defense and the rebounding, and I think we’ll be OK.”

The  Heat may be more than OK if LeBron James stays healthy. He comes off perhaps the best month of his career, one in which he averaged 30.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game and re-opened the Most Valuable Player debate.

James and Dwyane Wade were among several players who signed autographs and posed for photographs at the event, which raised nearly $600,000 for local charities.

“(James) is a confident player right now, probably the most confident player in the NBA, and it’s not born out of arrogance or born out of anything else other than the main thing, which is winning,” Riley said. “He wants to win. That’s all it’s about.”

Otherwise, the upbeat Riley seemed to enjoy the challenge of a third consecutive league title. He will turn 69 years later this month.

 “I’m six years out of coaching right now,” Riley said. “Look at me, man — I’m full of vitality to have some fun. Six years ago, when I was coaching, I would wake up at 5 a.m. and it was dark and I was depressed. Not anymore.”