Is 13 straight on the horizon for Dwyane Wade and the Heat?
MIAMI -- Streak?
Apparently for the Miami Heat, the word is synonymous with "repeat." And Coach Erik Spoelstra wants to ban any mention of the phrase from the defending champ's lexicon.
“You can't talk about it,” Spoelstra said after Thursday's Heat practice. “We've got to talk about what we always do, and that's the process of getting better. It's not about winning the next game so we can maintain the streak.”
While it might not be a preferred topic for the Heat, Friday's nationally televised matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) will generate plenty of chatter when the NBA's two hottest teams streak into AmericanAirlines Arena.
Coming off their best February in franchise history, the Heat enter March having won 12 consecutive games and looking to extend the NBA's longest active win streak. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies have strung together eight wins in a row for the league's second-longest current streak.
Both teams insist they're more focused on maintenance of specific areas of their performance than they are about any momentum they'll carry into Friday from recent weeks. That said, a setback for either team would carry some significance. A win Friday would give the Heat their longest winning streak since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami in the summer of 2010.
The Heat are also two victories shy of matching the franchise's longest streak at 14 games. Should the Grizzlies pull off the two-game season sweep of Miami, they would establish their longest winning streak in franchise history.
“We don't really play by the months,” said James, who had one of the most productive stretches of his career in February. “We didn't go into February saying, 'Let's go 12-1. Let's do what we need to do.' We just said we needed one of those stretches, and we had one of those. But we want to keep it going. We don't want that stretch to end because the month ended. We want to keep improving.”
The Grizzlies are the first in a line of opponents who have the Heat's full attention entering what could shape up as a difficult month for Miami. Within the first 10 days of March, the Heat will face the Grizzlies, New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers -- three teams that are a combined 5-0 against the Heat so far this season.
All three teams have presented a similar problem for the Heat: significant size up front, with the Pacers and Grizzlies ranked first and second in the league in rebounding differential. Even with the Heat playing their best ball of the season, there are still issues they must address -- and coping with a rugged and physical team anchored by Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol tops the list.
“We've got a great opportunity with Memphis coming into our building, who have won eight straight -- that no one talks about,” James said. “But we know. We talk about them. We look forward to the challenge. We want to go out and try to prove -- nothing [necessarily] to ourselves and nothing to other teams, but we just want to see how we are right now. We know what type of team we can be.”
Size wasn't the biggest problem for the Heat in November when the teams first met -- it was Memphis' shooting. The Grizzlies were 14-of-28 from 3-point range and held the Heat to just 38 percent shooting overall in a 104-86 victory on Nov. 11 in Memphis. The Grizzlies have since traded leading scorer Rudy Gay to Toronto and are 9-3 since the deal, appearing to have overcome any adjustment kinks.
Memphis' most impressive performance of the season might have come Wednesday, when it rallied from a 25-point first-half deficit to defeat the Dallas Mavericks. The Grizzlies tied a franchise record for the largest deficit overcome in a victory, and point guard Mike Conley told reporters after the game his team is on an unbelievable ride.
“I felt like we were floating above at another level,” Conley said. “I've never seen us play so hard and do things we were doing. It seemed like ... a blur, it happened so fast.”
The Heat have improved along a more methodical path. February was the first month this season in which they weren't outrebounded overall, although they still rank among the worst in the league in several rebounding measurements. Offensively, Miami has remained the most efficient team in the league -- fueled by James, Wade and Bosh each shooting career-high percentages from the field.
The Heat have taken pride in the streak.
But they're more consumed with the search.
“We're still trying to find ways to get to that level,” Wade said about regaining the sort of form the Heat reached on the way to a title last season. “The second half of the season will tell you a lot. When you're winning, a lot of things get overlooked. Once you lose one game or a few, you [hone] in on what you need. I think we need to continue to understand what it takes for us to keep winning.”