- Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com
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LOS ANGELES -- If the answers were all consistent and the faces not so universally sincere, you'd stick with the natural instinct that it was a teamwide conspiracy to spread bunk.
To a man, when the Miami Heat returned to training camp this season, they said their run to the title was not as emotionally trying as their first few months together back in the fall of 2010.
Not as trying as being down 2-1 in Indianapolis in last spring's playoffs, without Chris Bosh and with Dwyane Wade nursing a bad knee. Not as trying as losing three straight to fall behind 3-2 in the East finals and then facing Game 6 in Boston, where a loss would make their season an ultimate failure. Not as trying as being outplayed by the red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the Finals.
Nothing was like "9-8," that first 17 games of the 2010-11 season that rattled the Heat so badly that just mentioning that record instantly gets LeBron James to shake his head.
Because of all that, the Heat genuinely believe the Los Angeles Lakers, whom they face Thursday night at Staples Center, are a potentially dangerous team. Once the Heat made it through their challenging and high-profile failures, they felt they were "steeled," to use coach Erik Spoelstra's term, to deal with any bit of adversity in the future.
"That's a dangerous thing," Spoelstra said Wednesday night after the Heat won a quality road game at Golden State. "When a group can respond, it makes you tougher and it will make you better in the long run."
There have been comparisons between the Lakers and the 2010-11 Heat since the Lakers made their big summer moves to acquire Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. It's not really the same at all, other than the hype.
The Heat experienced relatively good health, while the Lakers have been under siege with misfortune. The Lakers did have a handful of new players, but had three starters and several bench players who had a history with each other. The Heat had 10 new free agents who signed before the '10-11 season. When early pressure came down on Spoelstra, the Heat front office stayed the course. The Lakers made one of the more controversial coaching changes in recent memory.
"No two teams go through the same scenario," Spoelstra said. "They've had to deal with a lot of outside circumstances and distractions. But they've been playing better, they've won their last few games. I hope, for our sake, they haven't put it together quite yet."
The Heat will play the Lakers twice over the next three weeks, two of the most anticipated games of the regular season when the schedule was released last season. Neither team, though, is playing up to the heavy expectations. The Heat are three games behind the pace they had last season even though the Eastern Conference has not proven to be deep thus far. The Lakers are considered long shots by some to make the playoffs, a scenario that no one could've envisioned.
But the Heat have been eyeing this test for some time, ever since August.
"When they Lakers got Steve and Dwight, my initial reaction was the Lakers did it again," James said. "I had the same reaction when they got Pau Gasol. If there's one team that can pull off something like that, it would be the Lakers. They got Pau Gasol for a bag of chips."
Despite the record, the Heat are still intrigued by the Lakers. They know that coming out on the other side of turbulence can have its advantages.
"I'm surprised just like everyone else they've started slow in the sense of how much talent they have, but I'm not surprised by some of the struggles," James said. "You can't force or fast-track camaraderie and guys coming together. You have to work through a lot of things before you become a team. We went through that as well."
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5dMatt Walks, ESPN.com