PHILADELPHIA -- The crowd was on its feet as the 1970s-era anthem "Here Come The Sixers" was blaring, with the words displayed on the scoreboard so everyone could sing along, as the Miami Heat squeezed into a huddle to hear coach Erik Spoelstra yelling.
"We have to earn it!" Spoelstra barked while giving a hard stare to his players.
This was a Wednesday night game in mid-March between a team with a 10-game lead on its closest competitor in the Eastern Conference standings and a team playing out the string of a miserably disappointing season that has been wrecked by injuries.
But this Heat winning streak, now at a sparkling and round 20 games after a 98-94 victory, is an apathy killer. It has grown into a full-scale phenomenon.
The Philadelphia 76ers had lost eight of 10, zapping their dim playoff hopes, but they played with the awareness that this single upset would at least generate a smile for the next several months whenever they watched the Heat on TV. Their fans felt it, too. They were wrapped up in it, standing without being asked, as if it were an elimination game.
Over on the Heat's bench, there was a rally being called for even as players felt the drain of playing one of the more demanding back-to-backs of the season. They'd blown a 10-point fourth-quarter lead but they couldn't just brand it a "schedule loss" and shut it down. Not with this on the line.