- Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com
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MILWAUKEE – Dwyane Wade, who is known to object to officials' not whistling a perceived foul from time to time, has never been so grateful to not get a call.
The Miami Heat have played some tremendous team-wide basketball during their now 21-game win streak, but they have also benefited from team-wide health. That looked to be in doubt when Wade crumpled after a collision with Milwaukee Bucks shot-block specialist Larry Sanders in the first quarter Friday night.
The thud from the landing reverberated under the nearby Heat bench as the players jumped to their feet in concern. Sanders got the block, but there was no foul. If there had been, Wade probably would’ve been done for the night because his hands had gone numb from breaking his fall and he was a little woozy. Had he needed to take free throws, he didn’t think he could, which would’ve meant disqualification.
Twenty minutes later, after passing concussion tests and letting the feeling return to his extremities in the locker room, Wade was back on the floor on the way to a 20-point, seven-rebound, nine-assist night as the Heat took a 107-94 victory.
“My head didn’t hit the ground, so that was good thing,” Wade said. “I got hit hard; I haven’t been hit like that before and I played football."
The Heat have now displaced the 1970-71 championship-winning edition of the Bucks for the third-longest in-season winning streak. It was also their ninth consecutive road victory, a notion that didn’t seem possible when they were 8-10 on the road and not showing much urgency two months ago.
The Bucks, who have enjoyed quite a bit of success against the Heat over the past three seasons, blasted Miami by 19 points in the Heat’s last visit to the Bradley Center, in December. But the Heat never were out of control once Wade returned, another example of just how dominant they’ve been over the streak, which is now in its seventh week.
When the streak started back in the first week of February, the Heat were neck-and-neck with the New York Knicks for the top record in the Eastern Conference. After Friday’s events, the Heat’s magic number to clinch the top seed in the East is suddenly down to single digits at eight.
Meanwhile, they’re now tied for the second-most road victories in the NBA with 20.
“Our road record was horrible,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Earlier in the year we were a sub-.500 team. You don’t win a title that way. If you’re talking about winning a title and you’re not doing the things necessary to put yourself in that position, then you’re wasting your time.”
It’s fair to say the time-wasting is over. Spoelstra has denied his team experienced any sort of “championship hangover” as it cruised a bit earlier in the season. But whatever the team’s collective mindset was then, it has changed.
With no team in the East looking like a serious challenger at the moment, possibly paving the way for a third straight trip to the Finals, and with this winning streak changing the history books almost nightly, the Heat seem to have started looking at the bigger picture and where they could put themselves.
“We’re very fortunate and humbled by us even being in position to be on a team that has put together a streak like this,” said LeBron James, who had 28 points and 10 rebounds for his 30th double-double of the season to already tie a career high in that category.
“We don’t take it for granted, because in professional sports wins aren't easy to come by, and the fact that we've won a fourth of our season [in-a-row] means a lot to all of us. It’s not the ultimate for us, but it is an accomplishment we know about and we’re living in it. ... We’re just trying to make a mark in NBA history any way we can. We want to leave a mark so when we’re all done, we can say our team was special. We still have some work to do.”
That work might end up including the Bucks. Even with Friday’s win, the Bucks are 3-3 against the Heat over the past two seasons, including an overtime loss earlier this season in Miami, and feel like they match up reasonably well with the Heat. Last week, point guard Brandon Jennings went so far as to say he’d prefer to play the Heat in the first round of the playoffs in April.
The Heat seem like a lock to get the No. 1 seed in the East. Currently the Bucks are seven games in front of ninth-place Toronto and three games back of Boston and Chicago for the No. 7 seed. The trend might eventually give Jennings, who had 21 points but shot just 6-of-15, what he wants.
“I still don’t take anything back for what I said about playing Miami in the first round,” Jennings said. “We’ll see them one more time [in the regular season]. If we’re still in the eighth spot, then we’ll play them.”