A stellar final month of 2010 has the Miami Heat extremely confident heading into the new year.
The Heat open 2011 trying for a fifth straight victory while looking to continue their recent success against the visiting Golden State Warriors on Saturday night.
Even with superstars LeBron James(notes), Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes), Miami (25-9) went 10-8 the first month of the season, leaving many to believe the star-studded lineup wasn’t as good as expected. However, the Heat answered their critics by going a franchise-best 15-1 in December.
In the last 15 years, only James’ Cleveland Cavaliers won more games in a month by going 16-1 in March 2009. Phoenix finished 15-1 in January 2007 and Detroit went 15-2 in December of that year.
Miami has won 16 of 17 and gone from sixth in the Eastern Conference to second, one-half game behind Boston.
“Overall, where we’re at now is what I envisioned,” said James, averaging 24.4 points and a team-leading 7.3 assists. “Did I envision our tough times early on? Not to that extent. But it made us who were are today, going into 2011.”
The Heat outscored opponents by 13.3 points per game and won 11 times by double digits in December. That included beating the two-time defending champion Lakers in Los Angeles by 16 on Christmas and topping the improved New York Knicks twice.
Miami also held Golden State (13-19) to its lowest point total at home this season in a 106-84 win Dec. 10.
“We’re just a different team now,” James said. “We go out and understand that no matter what the course of the game may bring, we can always will ourselves to win, get enough stops, and make enough plays to win a basketball game.”
However, James and the Heat are not about to get ahead of themselves.
“We’re not there yet,” James said, “and we know that.”
In the meantime, Miami has its sights set on a sixth straight win over the Warriors.
Wade, who followed a 40-point performance versus New York on Tuesday with 45 in a 125-119 win at Houston the next night, had 34 against Golden State this season. He’s averaged 34.3 points and 9.8 assists in his last six games versus the Warriors.
Though Bosh had 16 points and seven rebounds in the last meeting, he’s averaged 28.6 points and 10.8 boards in his last five against the Warriors.
Golden State won for the fourth time in five games Friday, 96-95 at Charlotte.
After each shot 4 for 13 from the field and combined for 21 points in a 103-93 loss at Atlanta on Wednesday, Monta Ellis(notes) scored 25 and Stephen Curry(notes) added 24 as the Warriors won for the second time in three road contests.
“On the road, things can happen crazy,” coach Keith Smart said. “But we managed to keep it together and get a win.”
Curry, who has been dealing with a sprained ankle, totaled 30 points in his previous three games. The injury kept him out of the first meeting against the Heat.
Ellis has averaged 29.8 points in his last eight games but has a combined 22 in three career contests at Miami.