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Friday, March 22, 2013
Updated: March 23, 5:10 PM ET
Miami in sight of lofty 33-win mark

By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com

MIAMI -- It's no longer the taboo topic it was earlier in the streak. But now that the Miami Heat collected their 25th consecutive victory Friday night against Detroit, there are still times coach Erik Spoelstra tries to avoid this circus.

The Heat's success has engulfed Spoelstra's March Madness. Their pursuit of the Los Angeles Lakers' record 33-game winning streak has disrupted his bracketology.

"I mistakenly put on the TV when we were on the road, wanting to see some college [analysis], getting my bracket ready," Spoelstra said Friday. "ESPN was on and already, they were talking about [Heat upcoming] games that could possibly happen and the significance of a game 10 days from now. That's the most dangerous thing in this league."

There's no avoiding it now. Not even the Heat can continue to escape or downplay the round-the-clock attention their remarkable run has garnered over the past six weeks.

Despite moving to within eight more consecutive wins of matching the milestone set by Jerry West and the 1971-72 Lakers, the Heat still insisted after pulling away from the Pistons that they're not going to get ahead of themselves.

Instead, Spoelstra and his star players took time Friday to acknowledge a couple of legendary Lakers who jumped on a Heat bandwagon that's potentially headed toward history.

After putting up 28 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and two steals to help the Heat cruise past the Pistons, LeBron James repeatedly spoke of how appreciative he is it to receive encouragement from West and Elgin Baylor as Miami closes in on the Lakers' 41-year-old record.

James took it a step further and explained how "cool" it is to be complimented by former Lakers compared with how "crazy" it is that ex-NFL running back Mercury Morris and some members of the undefeated 1972 Dolphins celebrate each year when that league's last unbeaten team loses.

"I just appreciate the history," James said. "I appreciate guys like Jerry West and Elgin Baylor and all those unbelievable guys who paved the way. For them to say they're pulling for us to get the streak, I think that's cool. When you read stuff like that, it's cool. Guys like Mercury Morris, when you read stuff like that, I think that's crazy."

Since they flamboyantly came together in the summer of 2010, James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh haven't been strangers to intense criticism from former superstar players. But there are also moments when they receive credit.

Baylor, who retired right before the start of the season the Lakers won 33 in a row, told NBA TV earlier this week that the Heat's toughness and tenacity during the streak has been fantastic, and that he's enjoying watching them make their run.

The Heat go for their 26th straight win on Sunday at home against Charlotte before a four-game trip that takes them to Orlando, Chicago, New Orleans and San Antonio.

Should Miami get through that stretch without a loss, their next four games are against home against New York, at Charlotte and back home for a potential chance to tie the streak against Philadelphia and break it against Milwaukee.

"It's going to be a tough road for them because everybody is going to be out there gunning for them -- none of the teams want them to break a record or set a record against them," Baylor told NBA TV. "I just give them all the credit in the world. To do this without a dominant -- LeBron is a dominant player, but he's not a dominant center. To do that with their team. They're not an overpowering team, they don't overpower you. They just finesse you and they're just more talented than other teams. I like to see them do well."

West, who led the Lakers to a 69-win season and an NBA title during that '71-72 season, echoed Baylor's sentiment during a conference call with reporters on Friday. He spoke highly of James' unselfish play and gushed about how, despite the Heat's star power, they've forced everyone to appreciate the beauty and dominance of team basketball.

"So much of the marketing in the NBA has been, frankly, about players," West said. "I think it's time we talked about the teams. There's gonna be more and more focus on the games, and I think it makes the players focus more on trying to achieve the record that everyone said couldn't be broken. I think they've got a great chance to do it myself."

While James embraced the love from the former Lakers, Wade was a bit more skeptical. The Heat guard smiled coyly when asked after Friday's game how he felt about some of the glowing comments by the Lakers' greats.

"I don't believe it," Wade said with a laugh, suggesting the Lakers might be trying to butter up the Heat for a letdown. "Yeah, I don't believe it."

Wade then said that "if the shoe is on the other foot," he would be proud to be on the team that ended the Heat's streak. For now, Wade said he's having just as much fun watching and listening to all of the pundits on national TV and radio try to predict when the Heat's streak might end.

"I watch all of you guys," Wade said. "I watch TV. I read Twitter. It's funny to see some of the people say we're going to do this, and people who say, 'Nah, this is the game we're going to lose.' It's a shot in the dark. We don't know. No one does. It's cool. It's entertainment right now."

Meanwhile, they're trying to maintain proper perspective. But that's growing tough with each win. The media, they can handle. The games -- even ones like Friday's when the heat dug themselves out of yet another double-digit deficit -- have become routine like clockwork.

But it's within their private lives when many of the Heat's players and coaches face their stiffest challenge. Spoelstra said his family and friends -- for now -- know him well enough to avoid making too big of a deal of the streak.

That's not the case for Wade, who joked that members of his family have told him the team needs to stop trying to give them heart attacks with those thrilling comebacks.

It's been the same for James, especially after the Heat fell behind by 27 points in the second half before storming back to beat Cleveland on Wednesday.

"I got texts from a lot of my family saying, 'Stop. This is too much to handle,'" James said.

But Chris Bosh has figured out a formula that works. Each time a relative or friend mentions how great the Heat's streak is going, he changes the subject to winning championships.

"My dad is a prime example," Bosh said. "He'll come around with a random fact. He's like, 'Did you know the Los Angeles Lakers did this and that when they won this many in a row?' And once he knows, everybody knows."

Once, Bosh found himself debating with a friend. The topic was whether potentially being the only team in NBA history to win 34 games in a row was more significant a feat than being one of a dozen to repeat as champions.

Bosh ended the discussion much like the Heat have closed games lately. With a dominant flurry.

"I'm going for the championship every time," Bosh said. "You don't get a plaque, a ring or nothing for 34 wins in a row. You get a record that'll probably be broken one day. Records are meant to be broken. But championships last forever. As a team, we know that. Somebody was telling me it would be way cooler to win 33 in a row. I'm like, 'Man, please. Get out of here with that.' They won't be throwing confetti after [34]. I'll guaran-damn-tee you that."