MIAMI — It’s a winning streak that — this week — has been on life support.
Entering a three-game homestand, the Miami Heat had won 10 in a row while outscoring foes by an average of 13.7 points. They had won road games over formidable foes Oklahoma City, Atlanta and Chicago by 10, 13 and 19 points.
So entering this week, you could say the Heat were playing their best ball since the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces in the summer 2010.
But then came a 109-105 home win last Sunday over lowly Cleveland, when the Heat had to come back from an eight-point deficit in the final five minutes. And then there was a 141-129 double-overtime home survival against even lowlier Sacramento on Tuesday.
So let’s pause for a minute before saying the Heat (41-14) are playing at an all-time high. A tendency to play down to lesser foes has resurfaced from earlier in the season.
“I don’t know,’’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked if overall the 12-game streak has been the best ball his team has played over the past three seasons. “Revisionist history, I’m not sure. We’ve had streaks before. I’m not happy with the way we played (against the Kings). It’s not just about the win. And that’s what we have to focus on is the process. Are we getting better or are we just going out there playing the game and not really competing to try to grow?’’
The Heat have high standards, and Spoelstra was unimpressed with the sometimes shoddy defense played against Sacramento. But if the Heat, who have tied the longest streak in the Big Three era, can win their next two games to tie the overall team record of 14 straight wins in 2004-05, it would be hard not to say they’re playing the best ball of the past three years.
On Friday, Miami plays host to the Grizzlies, who have won eight in a row and thrashed the Heat 104-86 in Memphis on Nov. 11. Then the Heat play Sunday at New York, which has beaten them by 20 points in games this season both at home and on the road.
So it soon will be seen if the Heat can show improvement against teams that have given them problems with size and with 3-point shooting. The Grizzlies, who are 3-1 against the Heat in the Big Three era, have a big frontline. The Knicks shot a combined 37-of-80 (46.3 percent) from long range in a 104-84 win Nov. 1 at New York and 112-92 triumph Dec. 6 in Miami.
If the Heat play how they did during the first 10 games of the streak, the Grizzlies and Knicks might be playing their 13th men much earlier than planned. They won eight of those games by 10 or more points.
For now, opinions differ from card-carrying members of the Big Three on whether the Heat are playing their best since the exclusive club was formed.
James isn’t sure.
“It’s one of (the best stretches). Our first year, after we went 9-8 (to start the season), we won (21) out of (22) and that was an unbelievable stretch as well,’’ James said of November and December 2010, which also included the Heat having a 12-game streak. “This is a good stretch as far as regular season. This is a very good stretch. We’re playing some really, really good ball. And I think the best thing about it is we’re doing it on both sides (of the ball).’’
Wade says no.
“The best we’ve played since we’ve together is in the playoffs in the Finals,’’ Wade said of the Heat, who won their final four games last season to close out Oklahoma City 4-1. “This is not even close. Right now, we’re just racking up the wins and we’re trying to stay healthy and just trying to get better (as the playoffs loom).’’
Bosh says yes.
“Yeah, I think so,’’ Bosh said. But then he offered that the Heat have “to tighten up on defense’’ due to some recent “slippage.’’
One could say the best the Heat have played was during a 10-game winning streak, not a 12-game one. If the streak reaches 14, then it would be time to revisit it.
Who’s Hot: Forget any talk that Heat guard Ray Allen might be slowing down at 37. After a dreadful five-game stretch in which he shot 4-of-28 (25 percent), including 1-of-12 (8.3 percent) from 3-point range, Allen has gone 34-of-72 (47.2 percent), including 19-of-39 (48.7 percent) from beyond the arc, in his past seven games. Over his last three, he’s 12-of-19 (63.2 percent) on 3-pointers.
Who’s Not: Forward Rashard Lewis, whose playing time has been erratic all season, hasn’t taken advantage of recent opportunities. With forward Shane Battier out due to a hamstring injury against the Kings, Lewis got 18 minutes off the bench, but shot just 1-of-5 for three points. Over his past seven games, Lewis has shot just 2-of-12.
1. The Heat are getting as much publicity lately for what they’re doing before games as during them. Miami players, especially James, have been putting on a show with their dunking in warmups.
“We came up with something that said, let’s get warmed up even more,’’ James said. “Actually, (point guard Marcus Chalmers) is the one who really started it. He said, ‘Let’s get hyped, let’s get up.’’’
James’ dunks have become fixtures on You Tube and fans have started to come down behind the basket in increased numbers to watch them. James, who said the Heat have “got a little epidemic started,’’ had a dunk before Tuesday’s game in which he threw the ball high in the air, caught it off one bounce. He then took off and put ball between his legs before throwing down a vicious slam.
“It just happened,” said James, who never has entered the NBA dunk contest and says he never will. “I don’t need props and capes and flight attendants and cheerleaders to walk out with me. I just do it.”
2. Spoelstra is trying at times to call center Chris Andersen by his “Birdman’’ nickname. But sometimes it’s tough.
After Spoelstra fielded a question that used the nickname twice, Spoelstra laughed and said, “I don’t know if I can respond to too many nicknames.’’ But whatever Andersen goes by, Spoelstra has had no problem lately with the reserve big man’s play. When Andersen scored 10 points against the Kings, it marked his first double-figure scoring outing since getting 11 for Denver against Oklahoma City on Feb. 19, 2012.
“I still think it’ll be three or four more weeks before he really gets his legs under him,’’ Spoelstra said about Andersen, who joined the Heat on Jan. 20 after not having played this season. “But now you’re starting to see some of the active things he can do around the rim. He can finish on lobs. He gives you second possessions… I don’t think he’ll ever be a big, big minutes guy, but 15 to 20 is probably something he can get to in a few weeks.’’
3. The only bad thing for the Heat is February is the shortest month. During the three Februarys of the Big Three era, they’ve gone 32-6.
The best was the one just concluded. The Heat went 12-1, the only loss during the month coming on its first day, 102-89 at Indiana.
“It was a great month,’’ Wade said. “I just think throughout (February), we found a way to get better… But we want to continue it going into March.’’
Unfortunately for the Heat, March hasn’t been nearly as good. They’ve gone 19-13 in the month so far in the Big Three era.
Quotes of the week
“Probably about 20 innings, if it was a baseball game.’’
— James, on how long the double-overtime win over Sacramento felt.
“Before, it was more out of anger and frustration. We had a lot of frustration because of what was happening around us. But now we’re more precise.’’
— Bosh, on the Heat playing well now even if they’re motivated by criticism, which was the case in past seasons.
“He is getting stronger as the season is going on. He has his legs under him… Now he is able to play 12 straight minutes without a problem.”
— Spoelstra, on Wade, who looks fully healthy after being slowed early in the season following July knee surgery.
“If they move, I’ll be looking forward to going to Seattle. I kind of miss Seattle a little.’’
— Wade, on the Kings likely moving after the season.
474 — Consecutive games scored in double figures by James, the sixth-longest streak in NBA history.
3 — NBA teams the Heat haven’t beat this season. But they’ll get a chance to change that very soon with games Friday against Memphis, Sunday at New York and March 10 against Indiana.
16,000 — Career-points milestone recently reached by Wade, even if he’s not all that excited about it. “Wait until I get to 20 (thousand) and then we’ll talk about it,” he said.
The Heat have intriguing games Friday against Memphis and Sunday at New York. Then the schedule lightens up with a game at Minnesota on Monday and Orlando coming in next Wednesday and Philadelphia on March 8 to begin a four-game homestand.
Tower of Power?
No question about it. A Heat goal is to earn the NBA’s top overall playoff seed. They now have the league’s second-best mark and have moved into a tie in the loss column with San Antonio (45-14) in the quest for No. 1.