Will the Miami Heat Ever Lose Another Regular-Season Game in 2013?
Their inspired stretch of play has included nearly everything.
There's been a grueling stretch of games (most recently four games in five nights) and a lengthy break in the action (six days off around the All-Star break). There was LeBron James' torrid, unprecedented hot streak (six games of 30-plus points and 60-plus field-goal percentage) and an overshadowed, still inspiring stretch from Dwyane Wade (three games of 30-plus points and 50-plus field-goal percentage in his last nine games).
The Heat have left the friendly confines of American Airlines Arena and traveled to some of the most hostile environments in the league. Miami had trouble away from home earlier this season, but they've won their last four away games, including road wins against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls.
During this run, the defending champions have cemented their position as the favorites to win the 2013 NBA championship. Only three of their wins have been decided by single digits, and they've posted an impressive plus-12.8 scoring differential along the way.
Coach Erik Spoelstra's team has returned their focus to the defensive end of the floor, where they've started flexing their championship-level muscle. Only four of Miami's last 11 opponents have reached the century mark, and three have failed to score even 90 points.
Overall, the Heat have given up just 93.5 points per game during this run, nearly a three-point drop from their season average (96.1).
The team's collective effort has been strengthened by some incredible individual feats. Miami's talented trio (James, Wade and Chris Bosh) have combined for four 20-point, 10-rebound games during the winning streak. James has also added a 20-point, 10-assist game, as well as his third triple-double of the season.
After his team sputtered through a relentless 114-90 loss to the Heat on Saturday night, Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins described the challenges Miami gives to opposing teams (via ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst).
"That team is big-time good," Collins said. "I don't see any weaknesses...When they go to LeBron [James] as a power forward, it is impossible to guard. They have a big rolling, setting screens and they have 3-point shooters spreading the floor. They've got Dwyane [Wade] isolated in the post … I looked at our coaches and I said, 'What do you take away from them?'"
Collins said he thought that the only way teams can match up to the Heat is by pounding them with two big men upfront. In theory, it's probably the most effective situation, given Miami's lack of size and rebounding woes.
But theories don't always translate well to the basketball floor. The Bulls and Clippers threw a pair of twin towers at the Heat, and neither team had anything to show for their efforts other than a 19-plus point loss.
With so many things going right for Miami, one starts to wonder if they'll lose another game this season.
As strong as they've looked of late, it's hard to imagine them closing the season with 39 consecutive wins. But if they are going to lose a game, which one will it be?
The Sacramento Kings are up next for the defending champs. This game might be an easy one for Spoelstra's squad to overlook, but that closer-than-it-should-have-been game with the Cavs should delay any sleepwalking efforts in the near future.
The Heat then have two days off before welcoming the Memphis Grizzlies to South Beach on Friday night. The Grizzlies pack one of the heaviest interior punches in the league, but without Rudy Gay on the roster, it's tough to imagine coach Lionel Hollins' team making enough plays down the stretch to keep pace with the Heat.
Two days later, Miami embarks on a brief two-game road trip, with stops scheduled in New York City and Minneapolis. The New York Knicks have played the Heat twice this season and defeated them by 20 points each time. But both of those games were held more than two months ago, and each of these teams has changed dramatically since. That Timberwolves game could be a trap as the second part of a road back-to-back set, but coach Rick Adelman doesn't have the bodies to pose a serious threat.
The Heat return home for a four-game stay that starts with two very winnable games (against the Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers).
The third team coming to town is the second place team in the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers. Indiana has already beaten Miami twice this season, and did so without the recently recovered Danny Granger on the floor. Indiana is widely considered Miami's most imminent threat at capturing its third straight Eastern Conference crown, but that might be enough motivation for the Heat to hold home court.
A beatable Hawks team closes out the homestand, with Miami then heading out on a five-game road trip. Assuming their streak is still intact, this is probably where it ends.
The Heat should open the trip with a win in Philadelphia, but their subsequent three games in four nights are a daunting challenge.
When will the Heat lose?
First up are the Milwaukee Bucks. With J.J. Redick in the lineup, the Bucks have enough shooters to present problems on any given night. Then Miami heads north of the border to square off with a Toronto Raptors team that has won seven of 11 games since acquiring Rudy Gay from the Grizzlies.
If the Heat are still standing at this point, a March 18 trip to Boston's TD Bank Garden will knock them off their last leg. Miami would have created even more separation in the conference standings (they've already got a six-game cushion), while Boston may be playing this game with its playoff hopes on the line. There's too much history and too much at stake for coach Doc Rivers' team to not get up for this game, and a hungry, veteran team is perhaps the toughest opponent this league presents.
If Miami makes it even this far, that's an incredible feat in itself. The Heat would have matched the second-longest winning streak in NBA history at 22 games, an achievement never possible without a number of things falling in their favor.
The bigger question, perhaps, is how much any of this matters to Spoelstra and his players.
My guess? Probably not at all.
James didn't join the Heat to chase regular-season records. He went there in pursuit of multiple championships.
He's already added his first to his resume, and seems more determined than ever to add another one.
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