MIAMI -- They’re trying not to obsess over it or much less talk about it -- the coach refuses to mention it in meetings like it’s a no-hitter or something -- but the Miami Heat have gotten wrapped up in the historic winning streak they continue to extend.
They are now one of just seven teams in NBA history to win 19 in a row after they trounced the Atlanta Hawks, 98-81, Tuesday even on a night when LeBron James had his worst shooting performance of the season.
It has now been six weeks without a defeat and the Heat players have come to realize they’re tasting once-a-lifetime stuff. This run will not define their season -- the playoffs, of course, will determine that -- but the players can’t help to admit their awareness of the accomplishment.
“Let’s be honest, we’re not sitting here and saying this is not something special,” said James, who shot just 3-of-11 and scored 15 points while sitting out the fourth quarter.
“This is an unbelievable streak that we’re on. We’re playing great basketball. We’re winning different phases of the game. We’re winning different styles. We’ve won on the road, at home, double overtime games, at the end of regulation games, what the case may be. I’m not going to sit here and say it’s not special. But at the same time we don’t want to get caught up in it too much.”
After winning an important game Sunday against the rival Indiana Pacers, Tuesday had the feel of a potential trap game as the Heat prepared to leave on a five-game road trip. The Hawks, who came in holding the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, have twice played the Heat tough this season and have a reputation of being able to win anywhere.
At times earlier this season and even earlier during the win streak, the Heat were guilty of coming out flat against opponents like the Hawks. But fully invested in the streak, the Heat played with intensity and never trailed on their way to another blowout victory.
There was a time this season when the Heat had the look of underachievers. They were guilty of going through the motions and then dismissing the losses, even to top competition, as irrelevant because it was just the regular season.
When the winning streak started, the Heat were 28-14, which certainly isn’t bad. But it also didn’t represent anything near their potential as they were neck-and-neck with the New York Knicks for the top record in the conference and in the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder’s rearview for best overall mark.
During this past month and a half, however, not only have the Heat scored quality victories over teams you expect them to get up for, but they have brought it virtually every night. When they’ve been outplayed or been off their top form they haven’t just given away the game, they’ve fought to the end.
The streak has jarred the Heat into truly caring about every game -- something that’s a challenge for any NBA team during this marathon season and especially the defending champs, who have the long haul at the front of their minds -- and it has finally brought them to their potential.
“You know you’re a part of history right now, but you just want to keep winning and keep it up,” said Dwyane Wade, who had 23 points. “This team is put together to win championships, that’s what we’re measured by and that’s what we measure ourselves by but this is a special time.”
In a normal situation, the mood late Tuesday night in the Heat's locker room would be a bit dour. They were scheduled to fly to Philadelphia after the game and didn’t think they’d get into their hotel until after 3 a.m. before having to play Wednesday night. It was the start of a five-game northern road trip and they were saying goodbye to family members for the next eight days.
Instead the players were skipping around, laughing and in a hurry to get to the plane. The streak has had the effect of eliminating the mundane, even a dead-of-night flight. It’s just not something seen often with a group of adults who are used to being stuck in a grind. It’s refreshing as it is revealing of just how much the streak has enlivened their season.
“It’s a privilege for us to get in our cars, hop on a plane and go do this again tomorrow night,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said without a hint of sarcasm. “That is the way we’re going to approach it. No excuses.”
Winning cures everything, it is said, and the Heat have forgotten what it’s like to do anything but. It’s like they’re stuck in a 1980s movie montage at the moment with victories spliced together with You Tube videos, antics and inside jokes.
“We don’t let the cameras in often to see this team but if we did we’d have a No. 1 hit show,” Wade said. “This is a great group of guys, a very fun team.”
Surveying the scene, one media member described it as “fun-loving.”
“That’s a little too much, fun-loving,” James said. “That’s like we’re kittens or something like that.”