They are the dog days of the season. But at least it was nice of the Miami Heat to liven up this past month.
When the Feb. 21 trade deadline passed, it looked to be time to count the days until the playoffs start or at least until there was a last-ditch fight for No. 8 seeds. Yet the Heat kept winning.
And winning. And winning. And winning.
OK, I won’t write that 27 times. But Miami’s streak captivated the nation during a downtime in sports in general.
After losing 101-97 Wednesday at Chicago, the Heat ended up six games short of the Los Angeles Lakers’ record 33-game run of 1971-72. If it had to end, one supposes it was a suitable time since it paves the way for sports fans to pay closer attention to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond of the NCAA tournament.
From Miami’s standpoint, if it had to end before 33, nobody can complain about the timing. There are 11 games left in the regular season and the Heat need to get back to what is ultimately most important.
“It was never about the streak,’’ said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “With us, we have a bigger goal.’’
That, of course, is winning a second straight championship. The Heat’s streak won’t be looked at nearly as favorably in history if they stumble in that quest.
It was the same way with the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. They knew their legendary winning streak wouldn’t mean much if they didn’t claim the title. They were able to do it.
“Winning the championship is the most important thing,’’ Keith Erickson, a forward on the 1971-72 Lakers, said after the Heat’s streak ended. “That’s what Miami has to concentrate on now. That’s what matters.’’
There were some bad habits picked up during the Heat streak. Seven times during it, they had to fight back from double-digit deficits to survive.
Yes, the object is to win. But that’s not always a good teaching tool. Spoelstra touched upon that several times during the streak.
Now, Spoelstra has a loss he can bring up and perhaps his players will be more attentive. The Heat fell behind by 13 in the first half Wednesday. Although they did take a two-point lead late in the third quarter, they expended a lot of energy in coming back and it showed in the fourth quarter.
As great as Miami (56-15) was during the streak, it’s still too early to fit the Heat for championship rings. After Wednesday’s loss, it’s worth noting Miami this season has just a 3-6 combined mark against New York, Indiana and Chicago, the top three foes in an Eastern Conference that has been said to have no worthy challengers. The Heat, 1-2 against all three teams, still have home games Tuesday with the Knicks and April 14 with the Bulls, although both teams figure to rest top players for that latter one.
It’s still too early for the Heat to start really resting players. Sunday’s game at San Antonio and Tuesday’s provide two more chances for Miami to try to not fall way behind against quality teams.
For now, though, the Heat deserve a chance to reflect back on their incredible streak. They had impressive wins during it over top teams Oklahoma City, the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis, Indiana and New York.
“It’s just very fortunate and I’m very humbled and blessed to be a part of this team and be a part of a streak like that,’’ said forward LeBron James, who got the streak started on Feb. 3, when he began a stretch in which he became the first player in NBA history to have six straight games of scoring 30 points and shooting 60 percent or better. “It’s one of the best that this league has ever seen, so we recognize that and rightfully so.’’
But there is something more vital for the Heat.
“What’s really important is to get prepared for the playoffs,’’ said guard Dwyane Wade.
If the Heat can add the Larry O’Brien Trophy to their streak, it truly will go down as a remarkable season.
Who’s Hot: One could rename what they hand out each Monday the LeBron James Award. The Heat star won Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the sixth time for games played last week. James did have two surprising games earlier this month when he averaged just 14.0 points. Since then, he’s averaged 28.4 points in nine games.
Who’s Not: After scoring 20 points in 13 straight games, Wade has gone four in a row without reaching 20. He’s averaged 16.0 points during the stretch while shooting 44.6 percent. One issue has been a sore right knee. Wade had missed two straight games before returning to score 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting Wednesday at Chicago.
1. Yes, referees read NBA stories. So they no doubt will have seen what James said after believing he had gotten roughed up against the Bulls.
It will be interesting to see how the calls go for James in upcoming games. The Spurs obviously will want to get physical with James the way the Bulls did.
“A lot of my fouls are not basketball plays,” James said. “First of all, Kirk Hinrich in the first quarter basically grabbed me with two hands and brought me to the ground. And the last one, Taj Gibson was able to collar me around my shoulder and bring me to the ground.
“Those are not basketball plays. It’s been happening all year. I’ve been able to keep my cool and try to tell (Spoelstra), `Let’s not worry about it too much.’ But it is getting to me a little bit because every time I try to defend myself I got to face the consequences of a flagrant (foul) or technical foul or whatever the case may be. It’s tough. It’s very tough.’’
James got a flagrant foul in the fourth quarter Wednesday when he banged into Bulls forward Carlos Boozer with excessive force while extending his arm. Regardless of what had happened before with James, that was the right call.
James doesn’t say much without thinking it out. He knows everyone around the NBA will read his quotes.
Stay tuned to see if what he said makes a difference because teams obviously are going to try to continue to be physical with James down the stretch and into the playoffs.
2. The magic number for the Heat is one to wrap up the top seed in the East for the playoffs. It would mark just the third time in history, following 1998-99 and 2004-05, that Miami has been No. 1 in the East.
While that is a given, the Heat still are in a battle to have the NBA’s No. 1 overall seed for the first time in their 25-year history. They have a two-game lead over the Spurs(54-17), but might need to win Sunday to feel comfortable.
If the Heat win, they will claim the tiebreaker due to a 2-0 edge in the season series and would all but wrap up the top seed. But a Spurs win likely would give them the tiebreaker.
If the series is tied 1-1 and the next tiebreaker is needed, it would be record against teams in the other conference. The Heat are 23-5 against the West and the Spurs 23-4 against the East.
So a Spurs victory Sunday would give them two less losses against the opposite conference than Miami, assuming the Heat win Friday at New Orleans. The only way then the Spurs couldn’t have the tiebreaker is if they lost their final two games against East teams, those being with Orlando and Atlanta.
3. It would seem odd to think the Heat don’t get their full due. But some of that is coming from James.
After James was asked after Wednesday’s game why the Bulls make it tough on the Heat, he bristled.
“I don’t know if I like that question,’’ he said. “We hear that a lot. It’s never, ‘What is it about the Miami Heat that makes it tough on other teams?’ It’s always the Bulls or the Pacers or the Knicks or whatever the case may be. Teams make it tough on us. We make it tough on them.’’
Actually, it was a perfectly legitimate question. The Bulls (39-31), despite being 16 ½ games behind the Heat in the East, have a 2-1 season series lead.
The questions also are legitimate about the Pacers and Knicks. They both also have 2-1 series leads over Miami.
Quotes of the week
“I had everyone come in and put a hand on each other, and for the first time I mentioned the streak in front of the guys.’’
— Erik Spoelstra, who never spoke of the winning streak in front of his players until it had ended and he congratulated them in the locker room.
“If it happened along the ride while we were winning games, we were going to be extremely excited about it. But we weren’t pressing every game and saying, ‘Let’s win so we can get the (record).’’’
— LeBron James, on whether the Heat were really trying to break the Lakers’ 33-game mark.
“It was an unbelievable streak that we were on. But in here it didn’t feel like we were on this amazing streak. It was just we were playing basketball and we were finding ways to win games and it just so happened to result to 27 wins.’’
— Dwyane Wade, speaking after the end of the streak.
Numbers game 11.9 Average margin of victory by the Heat during their 27-game winning streak. During their record 33-game streak in 1971-72, the Lakers outscored foes by an average of 16.0.
32 Biggest win by the Heat during their streak, 109-77, last Sunday over Charlotte. The Lakers’ biggest win during their run was 44, 134-90 over Atlanta.
1 Closest win by Miami during the streak, a 97-96 victory March 6 over Orlando. The narrowest margin of victory the Lakers had was four, 110-106 over Baltimore in the first game of the streak. Both teams did have one game during their streaks that went to overtime.
2 Number of the top four winning streaks in NBA history ended by Chicago. The Bulls also beat Milwaukee 110-103 in overtime March 1971 to stop the Bucks’ 20-game spurt. That was then the longest single-season streak in NBA history and now ranks fourth. What’s next?
With the streak over, the Heat aren’t just playing out the string. Following a Friday date at New Orleans, they have intriguing games Sunday at San Antonio and Tuesday at home against New York. The Heat have a two-game lead over the Spurs (54-17) for the best record in the NBA, and a win Sunday would all but lock it up. Regardless, the game could be a preview of the NBA Finals. Tower of Power?
Perhaps also in NBA history. The Heat’s 27-game winning streak has resulted in them being in the conversation about the best teams of all time. If they can add another championship in June, such talk will continue to be heard.