The Miami Heat’s winning streak stands at 19 games, and there’s good reason to believe it could be snapped any day now. Not only is there the popular notion that every dog team could have its day, or every alpha dog could be a few missed free throws away from working as potently as a puppy with a hurt widdle paw, but the sheer impact of NBA travel could take its toll on what is still (despite the massive success) a very top heavy roster.
Starting on Wednesday in Philadelphia the Heat will play nine of its next 11 games on the road. It’s true that the two home games are against the flailing Detroit Pistons and ruddy awful Charlotte Bobcats, but those could be considered classic trap games by metric-less gamblers that think they have a hunch. Travel is a killer, though, even for these seemingly unbeatable types. And at some point being asked to work as nonstop road dogs for 18 brutal days can get to even the best of the best.
Right? Eh, maybe not.
The last massive NBA winning streak was put together by the 2007-08 Houston Rockets, a goofball outfit ostensibly led by the great Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, but one that usually saw one or both of those players out with injury as a group of no-stats All-Stars shared the ball and won with heady play. That team wasn’t a championship contender, though, and nobody that watched the 22-game winning streak ever considered that the Rockets would be good enough to down the Celtics, Lakers or Pistons come spring. Eventually, the Rockets turned into first round losers.
The regular season trick? It was just that they won. They were a good enough team to win each game, no matter the opponent, and 22 different times the coin flip landed in their favor. This isn’t to dismiss this remarkable achievement, we respect every facet of that team (including current Heat no-stats’er Shane Battier) from the owner on down to the end of that bench, but sometimes these things just happen.
Now, mix in a bit of greatness with all that NBA randomness, and what do you get? What could you get? You could get a Miami Heat team that could be playing to beat the NBA’s all-time winning streak of 33 games on April 9, in Milwaukee.
And this is the part where you behold and then bow to the greatness of that brilliant 1971-72, 69-win Los Angeles Lakers team. A squad that won 33 in a row on its way to the NBA title, only losing to Milwaukee (the league’s defending champion) after a run that lasted two winter months in an NBA that was mostly played in cold weather cities. And that was without, shall we say, the perks that our Miami heroes receive from night to night, as they board that charter jet and as they’re served that complementary meal in spite of the $135 per diem the team is handed daily for food on the road.
This is part of the reason why the Heat can do this. Not because they’re offered the best “chicken or fish?” options known to man on a nightly basis, but because these mitigating road factors can be countered in innumerable ways. Hell, Gatorade was barely around in 1972. And in the same way that we can rightfully compare Kobe Bryant’s “lesser” 81-point game to Wilt Chamberlain’s round of 100 due to the talent, pace and contextual disparities that Kobe had to overcome, we can also call the Lakers much better streakers even if the Heat beat their record.
It was the 70s, after all.
If the Heat’s current 19-win winning streak – incidentally topping the best 18-game mark of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ 72-win season – was built on the team’s blinding talent and otherworldly top heavy gifts, than the 15-game winning streak needed to surpass Los Angeles could be forged out of the same sense of focus and random help that led Houston to take 22 games in a row five years ago. It would be a remarkable amalgamation of skill and will and “what the hell just happened,” and it would also leave the Miami Heat with a 63-14 record, with five games left to play and a whole lot of time to take it easy.
It could all end on Wednesday night in Philadelphia. That doesn’t take away from how remarkable this streak has been, and how frightening the Miami Heat are.
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