UPDATED: Thursday, Mar. 28, 1:30 a.m. ET by Zach Buckley
The Miami Heat spent the better part of the last two months looking as if they may never lose another game.
From Feb. 3 to March 25, the Heat rattled off a nearly unprecedented 27 consecutive victories. The winning streak was as magical as it was improbable, featuring six different games decided by six points or less.
It's good to be talented, and even better to be lucky, but things can reach a historic level when both elements are combined.
But even a team overflowing with riches like the Heat won't find all of the answers every night. And that became evident during their streak-snapping 101-97 loss to the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night.
Despite another MVP-caliber performance from LeBron James (32 points, seven rebounds, four blocks and two steals), the Heat couldn't match Chicago's performance. Luol Deng poured in a team-high 28 points and Carlos Boozer added 21 points and 17 rebounds. Jimmy Butler and Nate Robinson combined for 31 points.
But with this loss comes a time for reflection—a closer examination of just how the Heat were able to put together the second-longest winning streak in NBA history.
11.9: Average Margin of Victory
Typically, a double-digit margin of victory may be the product of the heavy influence of outliers, but Miami's run has been more a consistent stretch of dominance.
This 32-point thrashing of the Charlotte Bobcats was by far the most lopsided Heat victory of the streak. It was also just one of three 20-plus-point wins Miami enjoyed.
But that's not to say the Heat had to claw out of close games throughout this stretch. It won 18 games by double figures, including a 141-129 double-overtime win over the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 26.
7: Double-Digit Deficits Erased by Miami
Of course, those 18 double-digit wins means that the Heat had to battle through nine different games decided by single digits. And often those close games featured the same pattern: a lethargic Heat effort to start the night, followed by a frenetic late-game surge to salvage a victory.
In the span of three days, March 18-20, Miami battled back from a combined 44 -point deficit in come-from-behind wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics. Both wins came on the road and the two wins marked the end of a five -game road trip.
The Boston win saw Miami trail by as much as 17 points before responding with a two-point win. The Heat spotted the Cavaliers a 27-point lead two nights later, then embarked on a blistering 58-28 run over the game's final 19-plus minutes.
.480: Opponents' Winning Percentage
The Heat didn't quite face murderers' row in their stretch, but it wasn't a cakewalk, either. Of Miami's 27 wins, 12 came against teams currently occupying a playoff spot.
And the Heat faced a diverse array of clubs, knocking off 20 different teams along the way. (They've victimized the Sixers three times, and the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Charlotte Bobcats, Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors twice.) Their March 10 105-91 win over the Indiana Pacers gave them at least one win over all of the other 29 teams in the league.
Even opponent No. 28, the streak-stopping Bulls, were once themselves part of the streak. The Heat routed the Bulls 86-67 in their last meeting on Feb. 21.
13: Road Wins
When analysts were scrounging for possible points of vulnerability in the defending champs, Miami's relative road woes always appeared near the surface.
Before embarking on this historic stretch, the Heat were just a .500 team on the road with 11 wins to show for their first 22 away games. They found wins inside some of the least friendly venues in the league during the streak, including the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City and Boston's TD Garden.
One way to find road success is to limit mistakes and not give opponents free possessions. Not only did they take good care of the basketball (14.3 percent turnover rate in the streak), but they also forced opponents to play out of control (a league-best 17.8 percent opponents' turnover rate).
50.8: Miami's Field-Goal Percentage
Miami's not supposed to have an easy time on the offensive end. It doesn't have a prototypical point guard leading the charge, nor a traditional big man creating offense in the post.
Yet the Heat have turned coach Erik Spoelstra's "positionless" approach into the finest-tuned offensive machine in the league.
Their 50.8 field-goal percentage in the winning streak was the best shooting display in the league. They were also the third-best three-point shooting team (40.3 percent) and tied for the seventh-stingiest field-goal defense (44.2 percentage allowed).
Their versatility shined through their shooting numbers. Spoelstra's perimeter-friendly approach blossomed, as Miami compiled the best field-goal percentage on shots within five feet of the goal (66.0 percent), the second-best from 15 to 19 feet (44.2) and second-best on shots from 20-to-24 feet from the basket (42.8).
113.1: Points per 100 Possessions
Spoelstra and his staff are some of the best defensive minds in the game, but the Heat made their biggest strides on the offensive end during the streak.
Their 113.1 points per 100 possessions represented a four-point jump from the 109.0 points they averaged prior to the streak. Their defensive efforts didn't see quite as dramatic of an improvement (99.9 points allowed per 100 possessions, down from 101.6), but then again they didn't have quite as much room for movement.
When the Heat ramp up their defensive effort, their suffocating style inevitably leads to transition opportunities off turnovers—a devastating prospect considering the Heat's nearly endless supply of transition threats.
70: Plus-70 in Clutch Situations
Although their margin of victory didn't always show it, the Heat had to maneuver out of tight situations throughout the streak.
For as strong as they looked throughout the 48 minutes of games, they were even better down the stretch. In total, the Heat logged 49 minutes across 13 games in this streak in "clutch" situations—the final five minutes of a five-point game.
Their numbers in these late-game showings were staggering. They outscored their opponents 145-75 in what's essentially a game's worth of clutch basketball. They shot 50.5 percent in these situations, while holding opponents to just 35.5 percent from the field.
It was part of the reason that Miami was able to erase 11 different fourth-quarter deficits over those 27 games.
27.0: LeBron James' Scoring Average
A team rattling off this many wins has the potential to derail the "valuable" aspect from the MVP voting. It's hard for some voters to qualify a player's importance to his team when the entire squad appears to be rolling so well.
If anything, though, James all but wrapped up the fourth MVP award of his career. Not only did he pour in 27.0 points per game during the streak, he did so on a staggering 57.5 percent shooting from the field. As if that weren't enough, he also pulled down 8.1 rebounds and dished 8.0 assists.
He wasn't the only one producing (Dwyane Wade tallied 22.8 points on 53.6 percent shooting during the streak), but the King undoubtedly distanced himself from all of his NBA peers.
4: Games Missed by Miami's Big Three
Front offices can acquire the best talent and coaching staffs can put their players in the best possible situation for success, but there's clearly an element of luck involved in prolonged winning streaks.
Just one devastating injury can be enough to stop the surge, but that's something the Heat largely avoided.
James played—and excelled—in all 27 wins. Chris Bosh appeared in 25 of the games, missing two games before the All-Star break with the flu. Wade also played 25 games, missing Miami's last two wins with a bruised right knee that appeared to still be bothering him in the loss to Chicago.
Considering these players have combined for 64.7 points, 20.0 rebounds and 14.0 assists per game this season, Miami needed each one of its All-Stars to help fuel this run.
2: 22-Plus-Game Winning Streaks for Shane Battier
Call it good timing on Battier's behalf if you'd like, but there's no denying he's been a part of two of the three longest winning streaks in NBA history.
When the 2007-08 Houston Rockets rattled off 22 consecutive wins, Battier was right in the thick of things, averaging 36.3 minutes per game that season. He's not seeing the same kind of playing time on this Heat team (24.5 minutes per game), but he is still unquestionably valuable for his basketball IQ, defensive savvy and perimeter stroke (42.7 three-point percentage).
He's the Robert Horry of winning streaks, blessed with impeccable timing and one of the reasons behind his team's sustained success.
10/11: Miami's Odds To Repeat As Champions
According to VegasInsiderConsensus.com, the Heat are a heavy favorite to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy for the second year in a row.
The lasting legacy of this epic winning streak may well depend on Miami's ability to orchestrate the league's first title defense since the Los Angeles Lakers did so in 2009-10. As incredible as these 27 games were to watch, there will no doubt be much luster lost if Miami fails to win the NBA title.
It's getting tough to even decipher their biggest threat. The New York Knicks now hold the league's longest winning streak at six games, a mere 21 games short of Miami's incredible run.
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