When we initially spoke about the Miami Heat’s ongoing winning streak, the idea that luck and timing could play as big a factor as opponent and talent was tossed out. The NBA works as an entertainment device, bent on sending teams around North America for 82 games in a five and a half-month turn, and as a result the best team doesn’t always win every night.
The Miami Heat, defending champions, are the NBA’s best team. This is why the Heat have won 26 games in a row. The NBA record for consecutive wins is 33, set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, and if Miami keeps winning the Heat have a chance to break that record on April 9 when they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. The same Milwaukee franchise, you may have read, that stopped the Lakers’ streak some 41 years ago.
Can the Heat pull it off? Is it worth reeling those wins off, when attempting to defend a championship sometime in mid-June? And which David, on the Heat’s schedule, has the stones to pull off the eventual upset? Click the jump for the breakdown.
The Next Opponent
On the surface, the Orlando Magic look like yet another tomato can for the Heat to kick around, a rebuilding team on pace for 22 wins while working without four of its best players in Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis, Nikola Vucevic and the recently-traded J.J. Redick. The Magic have lost six in a row in a miserable season that was set into motion by Dwight Howard’s passive/aggressive trade demand and machinations from 2012. And as the injuries build up and the players ship off, the Miami Heat have come into town on the second night of a back to back to play Jacque Vaughn’s young team on Monday. This is a Magic squad that could be in trouble, as the Heat roll on.
We should point out that this is still the same Magic franchise, if not active roster, that played Miami to a pair of close losses in December and earlier this month. The Heat have beaten the Magic by a total of three points in Miami’s two previous wins over Orlando, with the Magic’s combination of wing-heavy athletes doing well to keep activity levels up and the Heat relatively in check. Not enough to take the win, but it could be argued that these contests (along with Orlando’s tough work against Los Angeles in Howard’s return to Florida) could represent the highlight of Orlando’s year, following that strong start to the season.
Of course, those close contests could swing both ways. Athletes tend to have elephant-styled memories, and the Heat are going into Orlando quite mindful of how close they came to defeat in December, and to watching its then-15 game winning streak potentially come to an end against Orlando earlier this month. Not that Miami harbors any sort of enmity for specific players on the Magic roster, but the Heat could be looking to make a statement.
And considering the fact that the Heat have been down by double figures to their opponents in each of its last four wins, the team could be looking to reverse a trend. Miami outscored Charlotte by an astonishing 43 points over the final 42 minutes of its win on Sunday, but that doesn’t take away from the 19-8 start in that contest, down 11 points to the worst team in the NBA.
The Magic may not have the worst record in the NBA, but with their batch of injuries the team might be fielding the worst roster in the league currently. Rookie Maurice Harkless has come on of late, and Jameer Nelson has had its moments, but it’s telling that Evan Dunlap at Orlando Pinstriped Post is relegated to hoping for the best from Kyle O’Quinn as the Magic attempt to take advantage of the Heat’s interior weaknesses.
The Milwaukee Bucks, you’ll recall, started someone named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at center when they ended the 1971-72 Lakers’ streak. This is a nice way of saying that the Heat’s Monday night opponents don’t look like world-beaters of the highest order.
Gr8 win & gr8 meeting Novak djokovic & Rory McILroy after game. Big fan of d tv show Nashville so good seeing @haydenpanettier at our game
— Way of WADE (@DwyaneWade) March 25, 2013
Juwan Howard, 40, just took the court against Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, 19. MKG wasn't even alive for Fab Five. — Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) March 25, 2013
We’re stretching, here. It was a game against the Bobcats.
Chris Andersen attempts the blown air defense agaist Kemba Walker (Getty Images)
Signed midseason to a pair of 10-day contracts and eventually for the rest of 2012-13, center/forward Chris Andersen is thriving in his new role as Miami’s first big man off the bench. At age 34, Andersen’s rebounds are down and his block percentage has dipped slightly from what was once a prodigious rate. Still, Andersen’s role on the team’s offense, particularly a bench unit that has provided inconsistent production in even the best of times, has been fantastic.
In this breakdown from the great Couper Moorhead, the Heat discuss Andersen’s role in the team’s offense, and how a simple cut straight to the front of the rim can wreak so much havoc:
No, Andersen isn’t Chris Bosh spacing the floor from the wings and the elbows. But that doesn’t restrict him from having a positive impact on the offensive end. Now that James and Wade are starting to figure out their timing with Andersen, he’s starting to space the floor from the paint.
“He gives you that vertical spacing, which is unique,” Spoelstra said. “We have a lot of deep threat, horizontal spacing and now we’re playing with a lot more pace and space. But that’s something that we didn’t necessarily have with our fives. So it’s different. It makes the court bigger. It makes it bigger for your three-point shooters and for your attackers. He’s got a great knack for it. It’s an instinct that he has. He’s got good hands, good timing. Sometimes you can’t teach that.”
What Spoelstra means by vertical spacing is that because of Andersen’s athleticism defenders have to effectively put a body on him as the rolls into the paint rather than just playing the passing lanes. Many big men are only a threat to receive the ball below the rim, allowing defenders to simply crowd the paint without sinking all the way into the middle. But with Andersen defenders also have to worry about the pass flying over their heads, and the best way to consistently stop the lob is to prevent the big man from getting a clear path to the rim. So, opponents have to crash into the paint, one by one in a tag-team effort, and chuck Andersen off his path, or risk the dunk.
In the feature, Shane Battier likens Andersen to a poor man’s Tyson Chandler of sorts. Moorhead reveals that coach Erik Spoelstra wouldn’t even play Andersen until he was familiar with each of the team’s sets on either side of the court, but Chris has thrived in Miami on both ends since acclimating to the playbook and terminology. His five-man units are playing league average defense with Andersen on the floor – an upgrade for a bench/starters mix that was often outscored – and Moorhead contends that Andersen’s fantastic hands and ability to grab tough passes might be his finest attribute.
As Dunlap spoke of in his Kyle O’Quinn column linked-to above, the Heat do have their issues on the interior. As Andersen finds his NBA legs, and becomes more and more comfortable defensively with his new Heat teammates, the team can improve considerably between now and June with their minimum-salaried addition.
It’s not fair, really.
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