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Ethan Skolnick: Pat Riley opens up on Heat’s postseason, keeping Big 3 together and his harsh words for Ainge

By Ethan J. Skolnick - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer



In his first extensive meeting with the media since last July, Pat Riley provided a revelation.

He’s a binge viewer of television series.

The Heat president entered the interview room Friday by announcing that he couldn’t wait for this weekend, and the postseason’s opening, because he had been watching too many episodes of “Homeland.”

Later, he added this, about LeBron James’ quest for a repeat title: “This is going to be better than watching “House of Cards” for 15 straight hours with my wife on the weekend, just to see him play in the first game. … The playoffs are going to take the place of all those series that I’ve downloaded.”

Instead, he’ll be watching a series against the Milwaukee Bucks, one that is likely to last only four or five episodes.

What else did Riley share Friday?

Plenty. Here’s a rundown:

• Riley made the case that it is “do-able” to keep the core of the team together, even while subject to the punitive luxury tax of the new collective bargaining agreement.

“But I’m going to leave that to Micky (Arison),” Riley said, laughing as he referenced the Heat owner. “And we’ve already had internal conversations about it. But that will all be tackled after the season. It is do-able.”

How? Riley pointed to the Los Angeles Lakers’ rich new television contract.

“It’s going to take that kind of revenue, those kinds of opportunities,” Riley said.

He said it would be a “shame” if the key players didn’t see their jerseys retired in Miami, become godfathers to each other’s children and have “one big happy barbecue in the backyard somewhere.”

• While Riley was reluctant to rest players as a coach, he spoke of the merits of a maintenance program in a modern era in which so much is invested in single players.

“Usually when you do that, you lose games, and then you go into the playoffs on a negative note,” Riley said. “And here we were able to accomplish everything.”

The Heat were 9-1 since starting their program with a victory March 31 at San Antonio.

With that said, Riley was disappointed about one thing during the season: that the Heat fell short of the all-time winning streak of 33 games, one set by the 1971-72 Lakers, a team on which Riley played.

“Spo and I never mentioned it,” Riley said of coach Erik Spoelstra. “But I was really, really disappointed when we got beat.”

That happened March 27 in Chicago, after Miami had won 27 straight.

“I wanted them to break the record,” said Riley, who believed they would. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.”

But more than that, Riley hoped that the additional attention to the record would have “resurrected the ghosts of Wilt Chamberlain and Happy Hairston and LeRoy Ellis,” as well as honoring former Lakers who have had health problems “who I think have been forgotten.”

• One of the signature moments of the season occurred in New Orleans on March 29, when Riley stepped out of the background to issue a statement telling Boston Celtics executive Danny Ainge – who had criticized James for complaining about officiating — to “shut the bleep up and manage his own team.”

Why did Riley do that?

“I’ll put it this way,” Riley said. “At 211 degrees, water’s just hot, right? At 212, it boils. And then when it boils, it creates steam. And then steam can move a locomotive. And I think that’s sort of what happened.”

Riley added that, as a coach, he was always at 212 degrees. In the front office, he cooled a bit.

“I think over the last four years, just observing everybody in the league, I’ve always wondered why there’s somebody out there who is willing and ready to weigh in on somebody else’s business,” Riley said. “I don’t think that’s right in this league.”

• Regarding the physical approach that other teams sometimes take with James, Riley issued this warning: “I think if you hit him harder and harder and harder, you’re making a huge mistake.”

• Though Riley has final say on personnel, he credited his coach for the team’s major midseason acquisition.

“If I got another text from Erik Spoelstra, about trying to get Chris Andersen, I was going to put my hands around his neck,” Riley said. “I mean, Spo knows exactly what he needs, and how his team plays, and it was always a facsimile of Chris. We always tried to find that.”

Miami is 37-3 in games in which Andersen — who has the NBA’s most distinctive hairstyle — has played.

Riley joked that he was glad his son James is 28 years old and out of the nest.

“If he was here, he would have gotten a Mohawk,” Riley said.

His son quickly tweeted: “Eh, mohawks really aren’t my style!”

• Riley recalled conversations with Jerry West when they played together, with West convinced he would not win a title. Then West won in 1972.

“That’s over with for LeBron now, that door’s closed,” Riley said. “That’s freed him to take it to another level. Whatever level he can get to, we may not have seen it.”

Who knows?

Perhaps it will make for more dramatic viewing than “Homeland.” Or “House of Cards.” Or “Magic City,” another Riley favorite.

“Happy playoffs!” Riley declared, exiting stage right.

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