Ranking Biggest Threats to Miami Heat's Winning Streak

Ethan Skolnick@@EthanJSkolnickNBA Senior WriterMarch 15, 2013

Ranking Biggest Threats to Miami Heat's Winning Streak

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    As the wins keep coming, so do the questions and not just from the media.

    After the Miami Heat won their 20th straight game, Wednesday night in Philadelphia against the 76ers, players were asking each other to recall winning streaks that went longer.

    With the exception of Shane Battier, who won 22 straight with the Rockets in 2007-08—and said he would "welcome my teammates to the 20-win club" once they got on the plane—no one on the Heat roster has experienced anything quite this on the professional level.

    In college, sure.

    In high school, sure.

    Ray Allen got to 19 with the Celtics.

    But not 20.

    There is someone in the Heat organization, however, who has been part of a streak that dwarfed this one.

    Pat Riley, the team president, was a rotation player for the 1971-72 Lakers when they won 33 straight.

    Have Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra discussed that?

    "Pat and I talk every day, literally every day, most times multiple times in a day, and we've never talked about the streak," Spoelstra said. "That's where our mindset is." 

    One game at a time, as they say.

    And eventually, the streak will end.

    But when? 

    (All quotes for this piece were collected over the course of the author's coverage of the Miami Heat for the Palm Beach Post. All statistics were accurate as of Friday morning.)

5. At the Toronto Raptors, March 17

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    UPDATE: The Heat streak rolls on after a win over the Toronto Raptors, 108-91.

    Potential Number in Streak: 22

    The Miami Heat had some cause for distraction on Feb. 3.

    It was not only the end of a week-long road trip, one which had just hit a roadblock with a listless loss in Indiana

    It was also Super Bowl Sunday, a conflict that hadn't been lost on the players. They had successfully petitioned to stay after their own game to watch at Real Sports next to the arena, even though that would mean getting back to Miami in the wee hours, prior to a Monday night visit from Charlotte.

    The Heat led by just four points entering the fourth, but LeBron James pushed them to pull away. 

    That marked the start of the Heat's current streak, as well as beginning the best five-week stretch of James' career, as he would follow the victory against the Raptors by taking his kids to school and, on no sleep, hitting all but one shot against the Bobcats.

    That was the second meeting with the Raptors, and the second win, though the first one was even more of a struggle, requiring overtime against a team that had yet to acquire Rudy Gay.

    The early buzz from that acquisition has worn off for Toronto but this is still a 1 p.m. start, after the players have a chance to partake in the city's Saturday nightlife, and prior to a much-awaited rematch with Boston.

    That makes it more dangerous than other upcoming matchups with non-playoff teams. 

4. At the Chicago Bulls, March 27

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    Potential Number in Streak: 27

    While the Miami Heat handled the Chicago Bulls in five games during the 2011 Eastern Conference finals, the regular season series has been quite a bit closer since Miami's so-called Big Three came together.

    That has been true regardless of whether Derrick Rose has played, or played well. 

    It's not especially likely that he will play in this game, even if pressure is mounting on him to return to action.

    In the former MVP's absence, as well as the absence of Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson didn't offer much in the teams' last meeting, an 86-67 Heat win on Feb. 21. Certainly, he did less damage than reserve point guards John Lucas III and C.J. Watson have done over the past couple of seasons.

    Still, there's always the potential for Miami to get bludgeoned on the boards if it isn't at its aggressive best, which was the case when the Bulls won 96-89 on Jan. 4. 

    Dwyane Wade, while efficient (8-15 from the field) in the last meeting, has sometimes scuffled in his home city.

    And the Bulls, even when outmanned, have the capability to get Miami to play carelessly and recklessly, because of the way their defense denies the first and sometimes second options.

    "We were just sloppy," Erik Spoelstra said on Feb. 21. "It wasn't the cleanest game. It was not the most fluid game."

    That was after a win. 

    A loss in the next visit shouldn't stun anyone. 

3. At the Milwaukee Bucks, March 15

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    Potential Number in Streak: 21

    J.J. Redick has faced the Miami Heat once this season.

    He hit 9-of-13 shots for 23 points, and was a primary reason his team nearly pulled an overtime upset.

    Now he's been added to the Milwaukee Bucks.

    Redick's arrival from the Orlando Magic makes an already challenging opponent even more so for Miami.

    The Heat are 2-3 against the Bucks the past two seasons, including an overtime victory in Miami on Nov. 21, and one of the most resounding defeats of the season—104-85 in Milwaukee on Dec. 29.

    "We just have to collect ourselves," Erik Spoelstra said. "We've got to dial in for a game (where) they'll be ready for us. I don't think it will have anything to do with the streak. It's more about the confidence they had the last time we played them." 

    Milwaukee has that confidence because it has competed evenly, or better, with the Heat while playing a variety of styles—whether grinding Miami into turnovers or even getting out in the open floor with their quick backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. 

    Plus, the Bucks have plenty to gain.

    Another win not only puts a little doubt in the Heat's minds, should the teams meet in the first round but a win also gets Milwaukee closer to avoiding that No. 8 spot. 

2. At the San Antonio Spurs, March 31

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    Potential Number in Streak: 30

    This time, Gregg Popovich's San Antonio Spurs stars figure to be in the building.

    The question is whether all three will be available to play.

    Tony Parker—who along with Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan did not make the trip to Miami for the Nov. 29 meeting with the Heat—is still recovering from a severely sprained ankle at press time, and it's unclear whether he will be ready by the time this titanic showdown comes around. 

    If Miami is riding a 29-game win streak, you'd assume, of course, that Parker would be motivated to participate in the spectacle.

    This potential NBA Finals matchup is also the last game of a four-game road trip for Miami.

    It's not in Erik Spoelstra's nature to send his own stars home, though some Heat players have joked about that privately, as payback for Popovich doing that at the end of the Spurs long road trip in November. So LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh should be ready and raring to go.

    That doesn't necessarily mean things will go well.

    Putting this season's tainted contest aside, Miami has had mixed success against the Spurs in the Big 3 era, with a 30-point win...and a 30-point loss.

    If any team will test the Heat's newfound defensive commitment, San Antonio's precise offense should.

1. At the Boston Celtics, March 18

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    Potential Number in Streak: 23

    LeBron James ended the Boston Celtics' 2011-12 season with brilliant performances in Games 6 and 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals—just as he ended their 2010-11 season with his exceptional crunch time play in the 2011 second round.

    His respect for the Celtics, however, endures. 

    That was evident again when he was recently asked if he considered the emerging Indiana Pacers as the primary Eastern Conference rival. 

    “Against Boston, Chicago more than Indiana. We’ve only had one series with those guys. So I would say it’s Boston. In our first year, we played those guys in the second round, and then last year we played in the Eastern Conference finals. And I have a lot of history with them before I got here, as well as the guys who have come here before. Indiana’s not a rival at this point.”

    The Celtics remain so for him, even if their roster is a shell of what it once was.

    They remain so because they remain so stubborn, never more so than on Jan. 27, when Rajon Rondo was ruled out just before tipoff—with the news released during the game that the star point guard would miss the rest of the season.

    Boston kept battling, and ultimately won in double overtime, spoiling Ray Allen's return to the TD Garden. That was, oddly enough, the start of a Celtics revival.

    So long as Doc Rivers is coaching the Celtics, and Beantown is cheering them, Miami knows it won't have an easy time. 

    On the second night of a back-to-back, in front of an ESPN audience?

    With the Celtics motivated to end Miami's streak?

    Must-see TV, for sure. And a possible L for the road team.