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 27 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
Various websites, TV talkers and NBA followers have looked at the Heat’s Wednesday evening matchup with the Chicago Bulls as a smart choice to work as the potential end to the team’s ongoing winning streak. The Heat downed the Bulls in the 2011 Eastern conference finals, but each of Miami’s wins were close conquests, Chicago destroyed the Heat in the first game of that series, and the Bulls have racked up a 6-3 regular season record against Miami since LeBron James took his talents to, um, Florida. And a couple of those wins have come without Derrick Rose in the lineup.
(A lineup Derrick Rose will not be in on Wednesday night, because I was born to depress people.)
Overall, that’s a 7-7 run with several close contests that could have gone either way for either side. One of the better, more underrated rivalries in the NBA, made all the more depressing because of a lack of a 2012 playoff showdown due to Rose’s ACL tear, Derrick’s continued absence, and the soul-crushing 2012 offseason restructuring of the Chicago rotation. Meanwhile, Joakim Noah is limping around on a foot he shouldn’t be playing on, the overused Luol Deng is shooting 40 percent in 24 combined games from February and March, and ESPN used images of Nate Robinson to advertise for this matchup on the air the other day.
Things are uneasy in Chicago. The team and its fans went into 2012-13 knowing that this would be a lost year, but that doesn’t make the work it takes to get through a lost year any easier. Especially while Noah and Deng are giving up their literal bodies just to make it to summer. A summer that will probably see the franchise waive forward Carlos Boozer for purely financial reasons, dismissing a player that is averaging around 16 points and nine rebounds this season.
This is your most recent opponent, Miami. Not quite as unlettered as outfits in Cleveland, Detroit and Charlotte, but no less despondent. Considering what’s been taken away, perhaps more despondent.
Joakim Noah is a game-time decision for Chicago. Rose and Richard Hamilton are out, and Marco Belinelli is probably not going to be able to make it. Kirk Hinrich will likely play, but the Bulls hybrid guard is working through myriad injuries. Taj Gibson has played well of late, but his return from an MCL sprain came quicker than most NBA players – leading many to assume that Chicago is once again pushing its players inappropriately back toward the court as they recover from injury. Nate Robinson’s a go, though the Heat can always switch LeBron James onto Robinson if he heats up.
Twenty-two months ago, you’ll recall, Miami was switching LeBron James onto Derrick Rose when D-Rose started to get out of hand. Sigh.
The Bulls will play hard, as a reflection of the city they work in. The team will play through injury and it will be expertly guided by the demands of coach Tom Thibodeau, one of the more brilliant basketball minds of the modern era. As has been the familiar refrain for Chicago sports fans through the years, though, the Bulls will probably lose to a better team that “has the horses.” The Bulls have impressed quite a bit during the Thibodeau era by overcoming what’s on paper, and the hand that’s been dealt, but Wednesday night will feature some pretty imposing odds.
In a lost year, this is Miami’s league.
LeBron James is averaging 26.7 points per game (on 55 percent shooting, a better mark than Michael Jordan ever achieved), with 8.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game tossed in for good measure. After achieving a triple-double in last week’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, LBJ has missed out on triple-doubles by either two rebounds or less or two assists or less in three consecutive games. James is obviously well aware of such stats in the middle of games, but by the time he brings the ball up court instinct takes over, and pressing to toss that extra dime or dive in (instead of leak out) for that rebound just isn’t in his on-court vocabulary.
His off-court vocab, though, kind of wishes the guy in uniform would notch that extra digit:
LeBron: "In NBA history, I go down as the almost-triple-double king.I suck . . . (continuned)."
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) March 26, 2013
LeBron, "(continued) . . . why can't I move one of my assists to a rebound?" — Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) March 26, 2013
LeBron was right: Six times he has missed a triple-double by one assist or rebound. Elias says no other player has more than three of those.
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) March 26, 2013
And that’s not counting Monday night. LeBron is up to seven of those games, this season, and 24 on his career.
There’s also this:
From the great Zach Lowe, at Grantland:
And now the Heat, a super-team that for two years was prone to puzzling and inexcusable bouts of stagnancy on offense. No more. Miami is a pass-happy team that whips the ball around the floor, shifts bodies all over the place in carefully coordinated motion sets, gobbles up the most efficient shots available, and generally destroys opposing defenses in a way that is both visually pleasing and nothing like how they played in the past. League observers used to talk about Orlando's four-out/one-in system, with four shooters surrounding Dwight Howard in the post or on the pick-and-roll. Miami and Erik Spoelstra have one-upped that by often playing a five-out system, with all five guys moving around the 3-point arc as the Heat run through a series of rehearsed actions while hunting for gaps in the defense. It's a system Miami settled upon through organic internal growth, free-agent signings, injury-related improvisation, and the study of everything from college football to NCAA basketball to high-profile international hoops teams.
Think about this, for a second. Take hold of the dates and shifts we’re dealing with.
As late as late May of 2012 we were watching Miami Heat games that featured offensive sets that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Cleveland, with Mike Brown in charge, Ben Wallace being asked to set screens, and Daniel Gibson at the elbow extended instead of placed in the corner. In less than a year, the Heat have turned into the NBA’s ideal offense. Yes, LeBron James tossing 65 MPH one-hand skip passes helps the cause, but so does the location, location, location.
The team is greater than the sum of its parts and they’re working with the best player in the game. It’s a remarkable achievement unseen since Shaquille O’Neal’s first championship in Los Angeles, or the Chicago Bulls era.
It makes you wonder if the Los Angeles Lakers traded for the wrong guy from Florida last summer. The Lakers should have dealt Andrew Bynum and some draft picks for Erik Spoelstra, instead.
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