Miami Heat Should Lose Before the Playoffs If They Know What's Good for Them

John Friel@@JohnFtheheatgodAnalyst IMarch 24, 2013

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 22:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat shoots a foul shot during a game against the Detroit Pistons at American Airlines Arena on March 22, 2013 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.   (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Not even the second-longest winning streak in NBA history can spare the Miami Heat some form of criticism.

Last year, the San Antonio Spurs ran off a string of 20 consecutive wins, including winning the first two of their Western Conference Finals series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, before dropping four straight to bow out of the postseason.

Then again, the 2013 Heat and the 2012 Spurs aren't too similar.

Still, not even a 25-game win streak, with the likelihood of it becoming 26 with a win over the 16-win Charlotte Bobcats in Miami Sunday evening, will quiet a mainstream media machine constantly thirsty for new stories about the Heat.

It's become difficult for a rumor to develop now that the Heat are winning games, even if they are coming up victorious in the most heart attack-inducing ways on a nightly basis.

If that first year of the "Big Three" proved anything, it's that the media loves a loser. I'm not talking about the Heat as a lovable loser. I'm speaking of the media running an assembly line of stories and rumors that carried no merit and were mostly based on knee-jerk reactions.

Naturally, the Heat are going to run into that again. The win streak has only enhanced that, in fact. Because they're on such a dynamic streak that has them challenging the all-time NBA record for most consecutive wins, Miami has become the centerpiece of all things basketball and is receiving more than its fair share of attention.

And right on cue, the skeptics begin to voice their always important opinion on the matter. This time around, it revolves around the Heat beating their opponents by too large a margin.

Yes, it's come to the point where the Heat's playoff success is thought to be in jeopardy because they are winning too many games. That's when you know you're doing something right: when it reaches the point where not even winning can appease the masses. 

Also, there are the LeBron-to-Cleveland stories. Oh, yeah. 

But is it really that farfetched of an idea, this notion that the Heat are focusing too much on the streak and need to experience a loss before heading into the arduous grind of the NBA postseason?

The winning streak may be worthy of worrying and speaking about to everyone outside of the Heat locker room, but LeBron James and company are not winning games to extend the streak. They're winning games to, well, win.

Let's just ask this question: If the Heat really and truly wanted to break the 1971-'72 Los Angeles Lakers' record for consecutive wins, would they be spotting 27-point leads to the Cleveland Cavaliers and 11 to the Detroit Pistons?

The Heat is obviously better than a Cavs team playing without Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao, as they are better than a Pistons team playing without Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond.

Miami is better than both those teams even if their rosters were fully intact.

They're also aware of improvements that need to be made. Only champions could look at themselves as a 54-14 team and think that there's more to build on.

Miami is winning games, yet still giving rest to its best players. Although James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are on the court, they are not giving the same effort they would in a playoff setting.

During the streak, Miami has only found itself struggling against the lower-tier teams of the league. The Heat  have disposed of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana Pacers, all by at least 10 points, yet have struggled to put away the likes of the Cavaliers, Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers.

Usually, a team that has won 25 consecutive games would be predictable. This Miami Heat team, however, has been an absolute enigma. They show up for the games against elite-level teams, but continue to fall behind against the worst teams the NBA has to offer.

If this winning streak comes to an end before it hits 34, it's not happening against San Antonio or Chicago. The Heat can stage comebacks against inferior opponents for so long before it comes back to get them, which it has in the past with close losses to the Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers.

Even after consecutive 11-game winning streaks and then some, the Heat are just as guilty as ever of not putting forth a consistent effort.

They've completely eradicated the idea of playing defense in the first half, giving up at least 50 points in the first 24 minutes of their past four contests, and are well aware that they need about 20 minutes of well-played basketball to beat teams like Cleveland and Detroit.

Does this mean the Heat have to begin worrying about complacency? Look, this Heat team may not show up when they play D-League-caliber talent like the injury-depleted Cavaliers and Pistons. But it has proven over-and-over this year that it can and will step up if it plays a team like Indiana or Oklahoma City.

You're not paying attention if you think the Heat simply struggle against lower-tier teams. They're not putting in a 48-minute effort. Their opponents play Miami as if it's Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and the Heat has an even bigger target on their back with the winning streak in play.

Energy won't be an issue for the Heat going into the postseason. They are not putting all their chips into this winning streak.

They certainly are not naive about the history they are approaching, but they also didn't come together to win a bunch of consecutive games. Everybody, from James to Jarvis Varnado, knows that this team was built to win a championship.

The Miami Heat will lose before the playoffs, but not before they break the record for most consecutive wins.

The Bulls and Spurs, as well as home games against the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks, represent the playoff teams the Heat will face over the next two weeks.

Sprinkled in, not including Sunday's home game against Charlotte, are road games against Orlando, New Orleans and Charlotte. The Heat play Philadelphia at home on the second night of a back-to-back. 

If the Heat are to pursue and break the streak, it's climax will be a home game against the Bucks on April 9th. There will be five games leading into the postseason after that; five games when the Heat will most likely rest their starters and prepare for the long haul of the playoffs.

It's not a priority for the Heat to lose, but they'll drop a majority of those final five games with James, Wade and Bosh all likely to sit.

However, losing in the middle of this winning streak is completely out of the question. The point of sports is playing to win, and that's exactly what the Heat are going to continue doing until April 10th.

Don't think for a second that this Heat team is sacrificing any energy for the playoffs in order to win games in the regular season. The Heat is aware of what they're approaching, but they're also aware that they have a championship to win.

With the possibility of seeing Milwaukee in the first round, Atlanta or Brooklyn in the semis, and then possibly the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, a third visit to the NBA Finals is as close to assured for the Heat as it has been since Michael Jordan and the Bulls were devastating the East.


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