Bobcats-Heat Preview

The Miami Heat have won 25 straight games, turning what was a

super-close Eastern Conference race into a runaway, and they seem

to be finding different ways to prevail on a nightly basis.

And no, they are not particularly thrilled with themselves right

now.

From the Heat perspective, it’s almost like they are

simultaneously slumping and streaking after facing double-digit

deficits in three consecutive games, yet finding ways to win them

all, much like each of the 22 games that preceded this week.

“I’m taking the world view, that we have room to improve,”

forward Shane Battier said. “By no stretch of the imagination are

we playing our best basketball right now. We’re winning ball games,

but we have a lot of room for improvement. We have not started well

the last couple games and our defensive focus has not been there.

It’s been there in the second half and when we need it, but we need

to do it more consistently.”

Even as they move closer to the NBA-record winning streak of 33

straight established by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1971-72, the

bigger concern in the Heat locker room is that they are nowhere

near a playoff gear with just 14 games remaining before the

postseason arrives. They’ve trailed after five of their past six

opening quarters, been losing at halftime in three straight outings

and have been outshot in three of their last six contests.

The next opportunity to fix some of those issues comes Sunday at

home against NBA-worst Charlotte (16-53), which is 38 1/2 games

behind the Heat (54-14) in the East standings.

“It’s on the radar, no question about it,” Heat coach Erik

Spoelstra said. “We need to put together complete games. That’s

three games in a row where we haven’t gotten off to that energetic

start that we’re looking for. We’ll have an opportunity to get back

to it on Sunday. No excuses. We’re not making excuses for

ourselves, the schedule or anything. Just more consistency.”

The latest close call wasn’t exactly all that close. Miami

trailed Detroit by 11 points on Friday night before clamping down

in the second half and pulling away for a 103-89 win, with LeBron

James finishing with 29 points, eight assists and eight

rebounds.

“We never expect anything to be easy,” James said.

But the 17-point deficit at Boston (and a separate 13-point hole

in the fourth quarter) that was followed by the 27-point lead

Cleveland held over the Heat in a most bizarre game on Wednesday

may be perceived as some warning signs, and the Heat freely

acknowledge they have to be addressed.

At the same time, though, to say the reigning NBA champions are

nervous about where they are right now would be a gross

exaggeration.

“Everybody wants us to win by 30 every night,” guard Dwyane Wade

said. “Sorry, guys. It’s not possible.”

Wade said he has seen mentions on his Twitter timeline lately

from fans who aren’t exactly pleased with the close calls, with one

mention saying that the Heat are causing heart attacks.

He doesn’t see the in-game lulls as causes of angst. He sees

them as fun.

“I think it’s great for the game,” Wade said. “Keep people

entertaining, keep people watching, keep people in the stadium for

most of the game. … For us, it doesn’t matter if we’re up or

down. We play games within games. We go on runs at different times.

We have a lot of confidence. We don’t do it on purpose, but we have

a lot of confidence in our team and we can go on runs very

fast.”

That’s been proven.

Erasing the 13-point Boston lead in the final 8 minutes on

Monday, a 45-12 run over a 12-minute stretch in Cleveland on

Wednesday, a 19-8 start in the opening minutes of the fourth

quarter to pull away from the Pistons for good on Friday, those are

just the latest examples of what Wade says is the Heat calling

card.

In Spoelstra’s eyes, it’s helping the playoff-readiness

process.

“Teams are coming at us. That’s a good thing,” Spoelstra said.

“We can’t sleepwalk into a game. We have to bring it, we have to

play well at both ends, we have to dig, we have to earn wins and

we’re playing against our opponents’ best games. That only helps.

That sharpens you. The more you get tested in this league, the

better you get, as long as you handle it the right way.”

The Heat have won 10 straight versus Charlotte, but they didn’t

have a cakewalk when the Bobcats visited Miami on Feb. 4. Although

James made 13 of 14 shots and scored 31 points, they never led by

double digits in a 99-94 win, the second victory of the streak.