Devaluing the regular season

The Heat's Big Three had their hands in only 58 wins in the regular season. Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

They say the NBA is a copycat league.

The latest title team becomes the trend-setter, establishing the bar by which every team measures itself. So as the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks clash heads for the Larry O'Brien Trophy, many teams will look at the roads they took to get here and try to emulate it.

The Heat took the road less traveled. Actually, it's more accurate to say they paved a new road in the ever-changing NBA landscape. Pat Riley brought in two stars in the offseason and managed to nab the second seed in the East with a supporting cast of stopgaps and washed-up veterans. They didn't chase the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' 72-win record. With an underwhelming 58 wins, they didn't even come close.

And yet, here they are in the NBA Finals. No MVP. No Coach of the Year. No regular-season title. All those accolades belong to the Chicago Bulls, and the Heat swiftly disposed of them in five games.

What can we learn from these facts? Does the regular season matter? Has it ever mattered?