Heat’s winning streak ends at 27 in Chicago

The streak is over. The big prize is still out there.

That’s what mattered most to LeBron James and the Miami

Heat.

The Heat’s bid for NBA history ended Wednesday night when their

27-game winning streak was snapped by the Chicago Bulls 101-97,

setting off a raucous celebration inside United Center. Miami

finished six shy of the 33-game record held by the 1971-72 Los

Angeles Lakers.

With 11 games remaining, there’s no time for Miami to take

another shot at the record. A big run in the postseason would seem

to be a sure bet.

After all, that’s what it’s about for the Heat. It’s been that

way ever since James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami in

the summer of 2010.

They delivered last season, capturing a championship, and are

eyeing a repeat.

The record? It would have been a bonus.

What stood out about the streak?

”I just think the way we compete,” James said. ”How we are on

and off the floor. … Ultimately, we want to win the NBA

championship.”

The streak that began on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 3, came to an

end despite his best efforts.

James tried to spur yet another comeback in the final minutes,

getting mad after a rough foul. But the reigning MVP could never

get the defending champions even, much less ahead, down the

stretch.

Luol Deng scored 28 points, Carlos Boozer added 21 points and 17

rebounds, and the Bulls brought the Heat’s run to a screeching

halt.

Miami’s superstar did all he could to keep it going, scoring 32

points and even collecting a flagrant foul during a physical final

few minutes.

”We haven’t had a chance to really have a moment to know what

we just did,” James said. ”We had a moment, just very fortunate,

very humbling and blessed to be part of this team and be part of a

streak like that.”

The Heat hadn’t lost since the Pacers beat them in Indianapolis

on Feb. 1. But after grinding out some close wins lately, including

a rally from 27 down in Cleveland, no one counted them out until

the final buzzer.

For the better part of two months, they were the NBA’s comeback

kings. They erased seven double-digit deficits during the streak.

They found themselves trailing in the fourth quarter 11 times, and

won them all.

Not Wednesday.

”We understand, probably more so later on in our careers, the

significance of that. And then that was it,” Heat coach Erik

Spoelstra said. ”We took that moment to acknowledge it, to

acknowledge each other, that experience, but it was never about the

streak. We have a bigger goal, but also right now, it’s about `Are

we getting better?”’

They walked off the floor stoically, not exchanging handshakes

or pleasantries with the Bulls. James slapped high-fives with a

couple teammates and coaches, then glared at a fan who touched his

head as he walked toward the tunnel leading to the visitors’ locker

room.

James was frustrated on the court at times, and showed more of

the same in the locker room afterward with regard to how he’s

officiated.

He cited two instances from Wednesday – a play in which Kirk

Hinrich took him down with two hands in the first quarter, and Taj

Gibson appearing to hit him around his neck with about 4 minutes

remaining – where he thought the contact was excessive. Referees

reviewed the Gibson hit, but did not award a flagrant foul. So,

seconds later, James tried to barrel through Carlos Boozer on a

screen, and got called for a Flagrant 1 himself.

”Those are not basketball plays and it’s been happening all

year,” James said. ”I’ve been able to keep my cool and try to

tell Spo, `Let’s not worry about it too much,’ but it is getting to

me a little bit.”

The Bulls, meanwhile, whooped and slapped hands with anyone they

could reach after clinching a playoff berth.

”It’s a five-second moment of reflection before we move on to

the rest of the season,” Wade said. ”In here, it didn’t feel like

we were on this amazing streak.”

What a run it was, though.

It will go down as the second-longest winning streak in the

history of American major pro sports. And some of those Lakers

believed their time would pass as Miami’s streak rolled along, with

Jerry West among those saying that he believed the reigning

champions had a real shot at pulling it off.

The streak began in Toronto, a day when Heat players were mildly

annoyed about having to miss the NFL title game. When San Francisco

and Baltimore were to be playing, the Heat were to be flying home

for a game the following night.

So team officials team changed course, as a surprise.

Miami beat the Raptors that afternoon, then stayed in the city

several more hours to watch the Super Bowl together, an event

highlighted by Shane Battier giving an unplanned speech about

appreciating little moments as a team.

For whatever reason, the Heat were unbeatable for nearly the

next two months.

And they won games in a number of different ways.

They blew out good teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma

City Thunder and the Bulls, then inexplicably struggled with

lottery-bound Cleveland, Detroit, Sacramento, Charlotte and

Orlando. They rallied from 13 points down in the final 8 minutes to

beat Boston, from a 27-point, third-quarter hole at Cleveland, and

from 11-point deficits against Detroit and Charlotte – all those

coming in a seven-day span, no less.

”There are several teams that can do it,” Pistons guard Jose

Calderon said, when asked what it would take for someone to beat

Miami. ”It’s difficult to maintain this concentration every day.

It will likely take everyone to have a bad day.”

Even when those bad days happened, the Heat found ways to

win.

A layup by James with 3.2 seconds left against Orlando.

Double-overtime against Sacramento. Huge comebacks. Whatever it

took.

There were times when even the Heat themselves didn’t know how

long the streak was. Because it was interrupted by the All-Star

break, Spoelstra was surprised when a staff member said something

about Miami having won nine in a row. When it was at 24 games, Wade

made a reference to ”23, 24, whatever it is.”

They insisted they did not care about it, whatever the number

was.

Heat President Pat Riley played for the Lakers team that won 33

in a row, and remained silent throughout Miami’s streak, mainly

because he rarely gives interviews these days but more so because

the official team stance was that it simply did not matter. This

season is championship-or-bust for Miami, where nothing else other

than raising yet another Larry O’Brien Trophy will satisfy.

Still, the streak will go down as the story of the regular

season.

”It was more important to everybody else than it was to us,”

Chris Bosh said. ”We never cared too much about talking about it.

It wasn’t a subject of conversation until (others mentioned

it).”

When it started, Miami was 5 1/2 games behind San Antonio for

the overall NBA lead, only a half-game ahead of New York in the

Eastern Conference race, held just a four-game edge over Atlanta in

the Southeast Division and were the league’s ninth-best road team

in terms of winning percentage.

Funny what two months or so without losing can do.

The Heat now sit atop the overall NBA standings, having gained

12 games over New York in the East entering Wednesday, put away the

Hawks for good several weeks ago and become, by far, the league’s

best road team. And with the streak over, all that’s left is

getting ready for the postseason.

”When you look at what they’ve done, to be the defending world

champions and to have a winning streak like that knowing that

everyone’s chasing you, credit them,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau

said. ”I think you can learn from them.”

The Heat trailed by as many as 13 in the first half, took the

lead while outscoring Chicago 22-14 in the third quarter and were

within two early in the fourth after a basket by Wade.

That’s when Deng answered with a 3-pointer from the wing and

Kirk Hinrich brought the crowd to its feet with a floater. Then,

after a layup by James, Deng nailed a 3 to make it 83-75 with just

over six minutes left.

It got testy after that. James did all he could to keep the

streak going, taking enough hard hits that even his headband was

dislodged, and finished with seven rebounds.

Bosh scored 21. Wade added 18 points after a sore right knee

sidelined him for victories over Charlotte and Orlando, but the

Heat fell to a team that continues to give them fits even though

Derrick Rose has been sidelined all year.

Deng came up big, burying four 3-pointers. He also had seven

rebounds and five assists.

Boozer was a force inside. Jimmy Butler provided a spark with 17

points and the Bulls stopped Miami even though they were missing

Joakim Noah (right foot), Marco Belinelli (abdominal strain) and

Richard Hamilton (lower back).

”It says we have a good team,” Gibson said. ”It’s all about

what we think in the locker room. A lot of people kind of write us

off every other day, but we just stick to our principles and do

what we have to do.”

For the Heat, luck simply ran out after recent wins in which

they rallied after trailing Boston by 17, Cleveland by 27, and

Detroit and Charlotte by 11 each. They were also tied with Orlando

late in the third quarter before pulling away, and when Battier

nailed a 3 with 4:30 left in the third, it looked like they just

might pull this one out, too.

They were leading 59-58 after that shot, and they were up by two

before Boozer converted a three-point play off a neat bounce pass

from Gibson in the closing seconds to send Chicago into the fourth

quarter with a 69-68 lead.

But they came up short down the stretch, fans chanting ”End of

streak! End of streak!” in the closing minute.

”We were much more competitive in the second half. It became

make or miss in the fourth quarter, and we couldn’t get the

necessary stops we needed to,” Spoelstra said. ”In the last

handful of games, those shots were going down and maybe that masked

a few things going down the stretch.”

There was a rumor that Rose would make his long-awaited return

from a knee injury after rapper Waka Flocka Flame posted on

Twitter, ”Word is D.Rose back.” The two are fans of each other,

but the superstar point guard squashed it at the morning

shootaround, with two words – ”Not tonight.”

Rose actually sounded more like someone who will sit out the

entire season, saying his recovery is ”in God’s hands.” He hasn’t

played since he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left

knee in last year’s playoff opener against Philadelphia, sending

the top-seeded Bulls to a first-round exit, and his comeback has

become an ongoing soap opera.

The Bulls were the biggest threat to Miami in the Eastern

Conference the past two years, but without their superstar, they’re

just part of the pack.

Even so, no one has given the Heat more trouble since James and

Bosh united with Wade in 2010. They had split 14 games leading up

to this one, with Chicago winning at Miami in early January and the

Heat returning the favor at the United Center last month.

”All in all, it’s been a great one,” Bosh said. ”We still

have a lot of work to do. The streak wasn’t important to us. What’s

important to us is winning the title. That’s what we work on.

That’s what we’re here for.”

NOTES: Miami had won 13 straight on the road and fell one shy of

the club record. … Thibodeau said Noah was improving but wasn’t

ready to return. … Tom Boerwinkle, the former Bulls center who

had a franchise-record 37 rebounds in a 1970 game against the

Phoenix Suns, died Tuesday. He was 67. Boerwinkle played 10 seasons

with the Bulls from 1968-69 to 1977-78 and also worked as an

analyst on the team’s radio broadcasts from 1991-94.