Two short seasons ago, the Miami Heat won 53 games, its division and the franchise's first NBA championship while the formerly proud Boston Celtics won 33 times and missed the playoffs for the first of two consecutive years.
Today, the Celtics remain the picture of perfection while Heat coach Pat Riley is theatrically threatening a playing comeback in one breath and his resignation in the next. At the same time, Timberwolves followers are regretting that the Heat's 2008 first-round pick included in last month's Ricky Davis-Antoine Walker trade is lottery-protected.
Boston's 8-0 start has been so impressive and so far removed from Kevin Garnett's Wolves days that the future Hall of Famer at least playfully considered the possibility of an 82-0 season.
"I guess anything's possible," he told reporters last week, borrowing a line from one of his shoe commercials. "I don't know if you can ever have a perfect season."
His line prompted teammate Paul Pierce to slip off one of his Nike shoes and place it on a table between the two of them at a postgame news conference following a 22-point pounding of New Jersey on Wednesday.
After holding on to beat the falling-fast Heat at home 92-91 Friday night, the Celtics need two more victories to match a franchise record 10-0 set by the 1972-73 team coached by Tom Heinsohn.
"It is just a number," Boston coach Doc Rivers said of his team's start. "It means zero to me, and hopefully the players as well."
The Heat's 1-8 start also is just numbers, but apparently they are numbers that mean more to Riley, who first last week suggested a "real" and "massive" lineup change might be needed to shake awake his team and then suggested playfully that he might be the massive change needed.
Even Dwyane Wade's return on Wednesday from offseason surgeries couldn't prevent a home loss to previously winless Seattle, although Riley was impressed with Wade's play and said he hopes his presence is enough to "inspire" his uninspired team.
"One person is not the savior," Wade said.
Riley can't find consistency from any of his perimeter players -- not vet Penny Hardaway or free-agent signee Smush Parker or rookie Daequan Cook -- other than starters Davis and Jason Williams.
National pundits declared last month's trade that sent Davis and center Mark Blount from the Wolves to Miami for Walker, Michael Doleac, Wayne Simien and a future No. 1 pick lopsided in the Heat's favor. But already Riley seems vexed by the enigma that is Blount, a mystifyingly rich 7-foot jump shooter.
The Heat still must pay Blount's big contract for the next three seasons. Already, he has been in and out of Riley's lineup and is being played perhaps as much because of his big contract as for his abilities.
"We've got to climb back into the season," Riley said about his team, "and hopefully get to a place where we could contend for the playoffs. But right now, we're a long way away from that. We're getting embarrassed. We have to simply come together. We're in the abyss right now. It's not much fun."
A variety of sources contributed to this report.