BOSTON -- Sometime last week, whether it was during the postgame dinner after No. 18 or the 3 a.m. arrival in Philadelphia after No. 19 or the plane ride to Milwaukee after No. 20, perspective broke its way into the Miami Heat's consciousness.
It's gripped them ever since, a reality that's gone from a once laughable afterthought to a consuming force. It leaves them screaming at each other in the huddle because they're down 13 points in the fourth quarter. It will not let them let go. This is real.
Teams aren't supposed to feel this way until the playoffs, when it isn't about the money or the numbers and it becomes about reputations and rings and legacies. The Heat are the defending champs and the regular season is but a long, slow dance before the race. But not now, now they feel it, now they are emotionally and historically invested.
They realize this isn't just about repeating and raising another banner. It's about potentially doing something they can call their career achievement. Something they can talk about in 40 years, like the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers can, with pride. Of course, there's a long way to go and much to do, but they can't take their eyes off the opportunity.
"Just trying to leave our mark," LeBron James said a few minutes after nailing another game winner, this one a rattling jumper with 10 seconds left. "We've got to leave our mark."
The Heat's winning streak, now at 23 games after a brilliant 105-103 comeback victory over the banged up but brazen Boston Celtics, has engulfed them. The second-longest winning streak in the 67-year history of the league is now theirs. They are closer to that indomitable 33-game streak owned by that all-time great Lakers team from 41 years ago.
It has them thinking: What if they, too, are an all-time great team?