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 they’ve won 24 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 Wednesday, we discussed the Heat’s pairing with the Cleveland Cavaliers as a classic trap game. Miami was coming off of an emotional win over the Boston Celtics two days prior, and several media outlets reported that the team celebrated that win (which gave Miami the second-longest winning streak in NBA history) in the locker room with a voluminous cheer unheard in its previous 22 wins. That sort of emotional comedown often leads to a competitive relapse in this ultra-busy league.
We all saw what happened. The Heat played the first 32 minutes of their road contest with Cleveland as if their collective feet were stuck in drying concrete. It took the full 48 for the best team to win over a Cavs squad missing Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, and Dion Waiters. The takeaway was that the Heat, down 27 points at one interval, can do no wrong – that Miami can tempt fate and still come away with the win.
Friday’s contest with Detroit presents the same sort of challenge, and though the Pistons will probably be up for the biggest night of their season, this is still Miami’s game to lose. The Pistons are a terrible club that has lost nine in a row and 12 of their last 13, ranked 25th defensively despite the presence of defense-first coach Lawrence Frank and 22nd offensively despite the presence of several players that really only know how to work on that side of the ball.
Coach Lawrence Frank recently called his club “disheartening” to watch, and our own Eric Freeman accurately described the team as a “picture of NBA irrelevance.” Detroit is playing out the string on its fourth straight lottery season, and because the team’s insignificance is so assured this late in the season, the Pistons barely resemble the club that topped Miami 109-99 in a game earlier this season.
Of course, the Heat barely resembles the team that lost to Detroit on Dec. 28. Dwyane Wade was suspended for that particular contest, and the defeat set off a rocky start to the 2013 calendar year that saw the Heat post a relatively disappointing 4-6 mark from the Pistons loss to Jan. 14. Things have obviously cleared up since then, Miami hasn’t lost since the first day of February, and the Pistons don’t seem like the right type of eager underdogs to topple this streak.
Then again, as we’ll write before each of these contests for as long as this streak lives on, this is the NBA. A few corner threes, and a few missed free throws, and the whole thing could be over in a flash.
Luckily, ah-ah, the Heat have the Saviour of the Universe starting at small forward.
Heat not only bypassed practice today but also called off Friday's shootaround. So enough about Spoelstra not getting his players rest.
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) March 21, 2013
The Heat's SunSports telecast last night was the top-ranked program of the day for "all key demos" in the South Florida market. — Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) March 21, 2013
NBA TV has added Friday's Heat home game against Detroit to its national schedule. It still will be broadcast on Sun Sports in South Florida
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) March 21, 2013
Miami’s win over Cleveland on Wednesday was one of the highlights of my 13-year NBA League Pass career, with many hoop observers wondering just why a relatively benign Dallas Mavericks/Brooklyn Nets game was given the ESPN treatment as opposed to (streak or not) LeBron James returning to suit up against the team he used to lead.
With the arm of NBA TV at its side, able to glom onto the local feed, Friday night’s game will (technically, as NBA TV doesn’t have the same cable reach as ESPN or TNT) be nationally televised. Even with the streak in jeopardy, the contest will still be an NBA obsessive’s dream – a cable TV showing on a Friday night in the heart of the NCAA Tournament’s opening round – and also one that even most NBA fans may give a second thought to viewing.
Because the Pistons are that dull. Luckily, again, this contest will have LeBron James’ presence to salvage things.
From Andrew Sharp’s piece at SB Nation, entitled ‘LeBron James is our Michael Jordan now,’ we grab this:
People HATED LeBron. I hated LeBron. Not just because he left Cleveland, or The Decision, or the way he disappeared during that one Celtics series, or his insufferable Free Agency World Tour, or the scores of questionably sourced stories that made him seem like kind of a douchebag, or his phenomenally tone-deaf first year in Miami that confirmed our suspicions, or the NBA Finals disaster that shocked even his deepest skeptics. It wasn't any one thing, but all of it together. There was just too much BS we had to buy into with LeBron and not quite enough payoff.
Now it's all different. We're done asking stupid questions about whether he can win a title, whether he's everything that's wrong with sports or whether he's worth the hype. It turns out LeBron has turned into exactly the player the hype promised us all along, and somehow even better. At any given time on any floor in the NBA, he can be the most dominant defender, passer, rebounder and scorer. Wednesday, he was all of those things.
I hate even bringing up the Jordan conversation because it leads to all kinds of stupid arguments. But still. It's a stupid comparison, but it's quickly becoming the only comparison. We've seen plenty of great players in between Jordan and LeBron, but there hasn't been a force of nature like LeBron James since Michael Jordan. If that's not technically a fact, then hopefully it's a feeling we'll all agree on soon.
Sorry for making this personal, but one common criticism I receive from Laker fans has to do with my appreciation of Kobe Bryant, and the supposed belief that I only criticize Kobe because I grew up in and around Chicago, and don’t want anyone to come close to my sainted basketball hero in Michael Jordan. Which is absolute bollocks, of course. I just kind of want Kobe to give up the ball sometimes to the sort of big men that Michael Jordan never got to play with.
With James, the proof is in my particular pudding. I don’t care who approaches Jordan’s greatness, and I don’t care who eclipses his accomplishments – because I’m secure in a very happy NBA life that allowed me to watch Michael Jordan play for my hometown team from 1984 to 1998. Anything after that is gravy, and if Kobe or LeBron James’ gravy turns out to be better than MJ’s, then I’m A-OK with that. Excited, even, as the word count in this column proves.
Andrew correctly points out that direct comparison between the two is silly; Jordan and James are two entirely different players that just happen to dunk and/or win a lot. It should be pointed out as a lark, though, that during Jordan’s greatest run as a member of the Bulls, that celebrated 1995-96 season, quite a few of his fourth quarters went in a very un-Michael Jordan’y direction.
While I agree that it was a small sample size – the Bulls weren’t in many close games that season because they were so good, and small coin-flip performances can be discounted – it does bear mentioning that the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls were pretty lacking when it came to pulling out close regular season games. Again, it’s a testament to that team’s greatness that Chicago had a fighting chance in literally every regular season contest but two – a loss in Miami and a thrashing at the hand of the Jeff Van Gundy-led New York Knicks – but Chicago faltered down the stretch of close losses to Indiana (twice), Charlotte, Denver, Orlando, Seattle, Toronto and Phoenix that season.
You’d still take your odds in the final five minutes with a Michael Jordan-led squad in the clutch, but it’s impressive to note that this Heat team is outplaying that 72-10 win squad in the final minutes of dicey contests this season. Does that excuse Miami for even being in close games with Cleveland, Charlotte and Orlando? Perhaps not, but as we learned on Wednesday night this is just how this league works at times.
For three quarters, the Miami Heat can dilly. For three quarters they can dally, even. And they can still win. Scary stuff, sports fans.
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