By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - The Miami Heat completed their regular season with a confident 97-79 win over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, the star-studded lineup now able to shift their focus to a tilt at the NBA championship.
Having already locked up the second seed in the East and a first round matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Heat rested All-Star trio LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for the regular season finale and still ran out comfortable winners.
After enduring a campaign of unrelenting scrutiny, the Heat now face a completely new set of questions. The spotlight becoming brighter and the attention more intense.
The Heat have had 82 games to learn to play together and their first round series against the energetic 76ers should reveal if those lessons have sunk in.
"I think we have squeezed everything you possibly could out of the regular season and I think it has prepared us for the post-season," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters. "What I've been talking about the last few weeks are habits.
"If you haven't developed habits over the five months of the regular season and been building up resiliency and the resolve to get you through tough time; you're not going to try to do it in a day and a half."
From the day in July when 'King James' jilted the Cleveland Cavaliers announcing he was taking his talents to South Beach to form an NBA super team with Bosh and Wade, Miami has been planning a championship parade.
A regular season record of 58-24 was the first step toward their objective but now the climb becomes steeper with four testing best-of-seven series needing to be navigated to the summit.
"Our objective is winning, you can see it by our actions and the Big Three's actions," Heat center Jamaal Magloire told reporters.
"We're ready, we're looking forward to playing Philadelphia, we've played hard the whole season... we've given ourselves an opportunity to go all the way."
HOT AND COLD
The Heat finished with the NBA's third best record but at various points of a shockingly inconsistent season looked more like a disaster in the making than a dynasty.
After a modest 8-7 start to the campaign, the Heat appeared to be developing into the juggernaut many had feared, winning 21-of-22 contests from late November to early January.
In March, the Heat cooled again losing five straight, including four at home, their frustrations bringing James and company to tears in the locker room.
But when Miami's Big Three are clicking, they are a frightening force.
That power was on full display in March, when James, Wade and Bosh each recorded 30 points, 10 rebounds in a 125-119 win over the Houston Rockets.
It marked the first time in 50 years that three players on the same team had a least 30 points and 10 rebounds.
While James, twice the NBA's most valuable player, has received little MVP buzz this season, he still finished second in league scoring while Wade was fourth and Bosh produced some of his best work down the home stretch.
But blending three of the NBA's top talents together with a roster cobbled from other team's cast-offs has proven tricky.
Such chemistry has at times been elusive but Spoelstra was confident his team has discovered a winning formula.
"197 days ago we started this journey and it feels like yesterday," Spoelstra said.
"We've been through a lot already in five months and we feel what we experienced through the regular season, what habits we developed, will prepare us for what we will be facing when the second season starts."
(Editing by John O'Brien)