MIAMI (AP) -Pat Riley sat in his office one morning, the sun glimmering off Biscayne Bay behind him, and shared one of the worst-kept secrets about his Miami Heat.
He suggested this season's first 82 games of this season wouldn't exactly motivate the defending NBA champions.
``I would not want to be a team on the other side of us in a seven-game series, because this is a rise-to-the-occasion type of team,'' Riley said on the late September day, even before training camp began. ``It is. It might not be an every-day occasion type of team, but there's something about them, when it's the right time, and it gets hot and it gets real competitive that they're formidable.''
Motivation isn't a concern for the Heat anymore. This is that ``right time'' Riley spoke about.
It's playoff time.
``We are built for this,'' said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, the reigning NBA finals MVP. ``We are built for the playoffs.''
Miami visits Chicago on Saturday in Game 1 of a best-of-seven Eastern Conference first round series, the second straight year the Heat and Bulls collide in the opening matchup; Miami ousted Chicago in six games a year ago.
And an ever-confident Riley is eager to put his theory to the test.
``I think the team can repeat, regardless of what the situation is,'' Riley said. ``We have a lot of respect for the teams in the Eastern Conference and whoever will be there in the finals, but we're the defending champions. We know what we have to do and how we have to do it and whatever we have to fight through, we're going to do that.''
Already, Miami has fought through plenty this season.
Shaquille O'Neal sat out 42 games, mostly because of knee surgery, and averaged a career-low 17.3 points - although, to be fair, he also averaged a career-low 12 shots per game. Wade missed 31 games and had his season threatened by a dislocated left shoulder. Jason Williams, Jason Kapono, Gary Payton and James Posey all missed significant time, and even Riley missed 22 games for knee surgery and a hip replacement.
``It was a tough year,'' Wade said. ``But it's a different season now and we're looking forward to defending our crown. You can't really defend it until the playoffs. You go out every night and you try to wear the crown with respect, because it takes a lot to win a championship, a lot of sacrifice. But you can't defend your title until you get to the playoffs.''
Out of the 82 games on the regular season slate, the entire team - all players and coaches - were healthy and available exactly once. Miami went on to win only 44 games this season; it's been 29 years since an eventual NBA champion had that low a regular-season winning percentage. (San Antonio won 37 games in 1999, the strike-shortened 50-game season).
But the Heat insist that the regular season, given all the injuries, will soon be rendered completely irrelevant.
``We've got enough cunningness and enough veterans to get it done,'' O'Neal said. ``We'll be ready.''
O'Neal - who is seeking a fifth title - knows Riley will see to that.
The 62-year-old coach and team president has seven championship rings, five as a head coach, one as an assistant, one as a player. His career postseason coaching record is 171-107, making him the second-winningest playoff boss in league history, seven victories behind the Los Angeles Lakers' Phil Jackson.
And some of his postseason ways have become the stuff of legend.
``Look at his resume,'' O'Neal said. ``We've all grown up watching him and we know what's on his resume. That's it. That's all you need. Experience. Resume and experience, that's what separates him.''
When Miami lost the first two games of last year's finals in Dallas, Riley wrote ``6-20-06'' on a markerboard in the locker room, told the Heat that they'd win the title on June 20 and walked out. Sure enough, he was right. The Heat took the title with a Game 6 win that very day on the Mavericks' home floor - a good thing, because Riley said he packed ``one suit, one shirt, one tie'' for that trip to Dallas.
``He's a better playoff coach than he is in the regular season, and that's saying a lot,'' Wade said. ``But that's why he's won championships. He knows how to get the team to relax, how to get the team to play, and that's what we need. That's why he's our guy.''
Riley's biggest contribution to last season's title, the first in Heat history, wasn't a well-designed offensive play or a sharp defensive call. It was a saying - ``15 Strong'' - which became the team's credo on the postseason march.
He had it printed on tens of thousands of little cards, some with pictures of the NBA championship trophy on one side, some with players' names, some with pictures of the players with their wives and families. And in the champagne-soaked locker room in Dallas, those cards were stuck to everyone and everything.
To relive that scene, Riley has tweaked the credo just a bit.
``We're going to add an '-er' to it,'' Riley said. ``E-R. And that doesn't mean emergency room. It means stronger, smarter, bigger, faster, all the things we're going to have to be. And this is the time.''

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