- Tom Haberstroh
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MIAMI -- Erik Spoelstra laughed at the question.
The coach was asked at Heat practice on Friday if he feels pity for the video coordinators these days. After all, they have to prepare not one, but two, full scouting reports, one for the New York Knicks and one for the Indiana Pacers, because the Heat still don't know who they're playing in the Eastern Conference Finals. Actually, it's possible that the idle Heat won't know who they're playing until Monday night ahead of Game 1, which starts on Wednesday.
The Heat are playing the waiting game, the team's video coordinators and scouting staff are feverishly working double time. But what his "video guys" are dealing with now is nothing, Spoelstra insisted.
Spoelstra has been in their shoes. He started in the Heat organization as a 25-year-old video coordinator back in 1995, working long hours cutting film in the Heat's Dungeon, as the staff affectionately calls it. Since then, he's worn every hat in the coaching staff directory and seen it all when it comes to last-minute prepping.
But this current staff has been been studying up on the Pacers and Knicks since the beginning of May.
You think two teams is bad?
"The worst one ever," Spoelstra recalled.
It was back in the 2003-04 season while Spoelstra was the assistant coach to then-head coach Stan Van Gundy. Shortly after graduating from the Dungeon, Spoelstra was in charge of writing the scouting reports for Van Gundy and the rest of the coaching staff, as well as a separate one for the players.
Spoelstra never saw it coming, really. That season, the Heat had started 0-7 and hadn't even reached .500 until the last week of the regular season. After a mad dash to finish the season (winning 17 of their final 22 games), Spoelstra instructed his video and scouting staff to prepare for the seventh seed or eighth seed.
"I prepared A-to-Z, four of the teams of highest probability, ranging from 60 percent to 90 percent probability that we'd play them. We had the books, video, everything," Spoelstra said as he pretended to lock up a safe.
"Turn the key, done."
On the final night of the regular season, four teams -- the Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Hornets, New York Knicks -- jockeyed for position in the playoff picture as the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh seeds were up for grabs.
The Heat beat the New Jersey Nets by 12 points in the final game of the season to finish with a lukewarm 42-40 record. After the win, the coaching staff hurried down to the Dungeon to watch the end of Toronto-Milwaukee game, which would decide their playoff fate. Of countless scenarios entering the day, it all hinged on this one game.
If the Raptors beat the Bucks, the Heat would net the fourth seed and play the Hornets. If the Bucks beat the Raptors, the Heat would be the fifth seed and play the Bucks.
Sure enough, Toronto's Jalen Rose hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with five seconds to go, but the Bucks had one more opportunity to get the fourth seed. Michael Redd, playing at the time for the Bucks, missed a last-second 27-footer.
Buck lose, Heat nab the fourth seed to play the Hornets.
This would normally be a time for unbridled celebration for the coaching staff, right? Only one problem: the Hornets weren't one of the four teams that Spoelstra selected. They weren't even on Spoelstra's radar.
"There was a 1 percent probability of that happening," Spoelstra said. "I hadn’t watched one second of film of New Orleans."
They needed a fifth book. Instead of rejoicing, the whole room groaned. Except for one guy.
"As soon as it happened, Stan just started laughing," Spoelstra said with a grin. "He walked out and said, 'Have a good night!'"
And with that, Spoelstra and his staff crammed an entire week's worth of scouting in one night -- or early morning, you could say. Spoelstra had to watch the film, write up the scouting reports on each Hornets player and scout their entire playbook. Deadline was 1 o'clock the next afternoon in time for a coaches meeting, which was 13 hours away.
Of course, Spoelstra got it done. He had already written four 20-page books that week. What's one more?
"I think I was up 50 straight hours," Spoelstra said.
Dozens of copies of those four books, hundreds and hundreds of pages all gone to waste. How many trees did they kill?
"Put it this way: We recycle now," Spoelstra said. "I’m from Oregon. I ethically had a problem throwing away that much paper. Now we have a big green bin, and it's mostly digital anyway."
Video coordinators these days, they don't know how good they have it.
"Two teams over the course of two weeks?" Spoelstra said. "Nah, that's easy."
MIAMI -- Erik Spoelstra laughed at the question. The coach was asked at Heat practice on Friday if he feels pity for the video coordinators these days.