LeBron James and the Miami Heat have had a number of key moments during their run for back-to-back championships.
The 2012-13 season hasn’t been all kind to the crew from South Beach, but it has caught fire at the right time, and it has the advantage of sitting players with the playoffs around the corner. Many moments have earned the Heat that luxury, and a number of them won’t be forgotten any time soon.
While the real season has yet to arrive, significant events have taken place along the way. There have been a few defining moments, and those times have all been leading to another run at an NBA championship.
Miami Loses to Indiana Pacers—Again
The Heat traveled to Indiana on Feb. 1 to take on the Pacers for the second time in less than a month. The first time around they lost by 10, and the second time proved to be no better.
A 102-89 loss left Miami with a 29-14 record, and while that's a respectable mark for most squads, it was a sign in South Beach that the defending champions might not be taking the regular season seriously.
The more significant point to drive home is that this loss came with the theme that contenders out East had Miami's number. The team had yet to beat Indiana, the New York Knicks or the Chicago Bulls, and just a few days prior it dropped an overtime contest to the Boston Celtics.
Everybody wanted to know if this group could flip the switch, but little did they know, their answer was right around the corner.
LeBron James Dominates February
One of the biggest debates early in the year was whether the MVP award belonged to LeBron James or Kevin Durant. The two had established themselves as the best in the game in the eyes of many, and with Durant leading the way in scoring, he had put himself in position to challenge the reigning recipient.
While you can still debate that topic to this day, James has done everything in his power to get his team back to the Finals, and he's emphatically become the MVP front-runner along the way.
Via @eliassports LeBron James shot 64.1% from field in February. Michael Jordan's best shooting calendar month-- 58.9%— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 1, 2013
James' strongest example of his value came in February when he set an NBA record for the most games in a row scoring 30 points while shooting 60 percent. He completed that task in six contests between Feb. 3 and Feb. 12.
During that stretch, James averaged an incredible 30.8 points on 71.7 percent shooting. He even had a game against the Charlotte Bobcats where he completed 13-of-14.
Question the competition if you want, Not Bill Walton—that is an impressive performance.
LeBron shot 13-14 from the field vs. Charlotte. That would be his best shooting effort in his NBA career if Bobcats counted as an NBA team.— Not Bill Walton (@NotBillWalton) February 5, 2013
The night that James’ streak finally came to an end, he still recorded 39 points on 58.3 percent shooting against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He also collected 12 rebounds, seven assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from behind the arc.
When the month concluded, James had posted averages of 29.7 points, 7.8 assists and 7.5 rebounds. The team had only lost one game, setting up a chase for another NBA record.
Birdman Flies Again
Part of the reason for the Heat's early lull is that they didn't look like the same team defensively that had just won a title. Following a Dec. 5 loss to the Washington Wizards, they were the 11th-worst team when it came to points allowed.
That stat was attributed heavily to effort in transition defense, but the other fact was that the team had nobody to clog the middle and challenge shots at the rim—rebounding was also a concern.
When the Heat signed Chris Andersen on Feb. 8 for the remainder of the year, it went largely unnoticed by most casual fans. However, it ended up being the move that brought both energy and production to the defensive side of the floor.
If the Heat end up winning their second straight championship, nobody is going to claim Andersen is the reason why with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh leading the way. But when it comes down to it, every team needs a glue guy, and that's what Andersen has been up to this point.
Heat’s Historic Streak
When the Heat won 27 straight games between Feb. 3 and March 27, every single game could be noted as a crucial moment when it came to their momentum. This stretch was littered with dominant performances, but there are a few contests that stick out when looking back.
On March 3, Miami was finally able to take down the Knicks, and it would also collect its first win against Indiana on March 10. The assumption had been up to that point that the Heat were vulnerable, but those two wins showed that they were more than capable of beating capable opponents.
In an instant classic, the Heat took down the Celtics 105-103 on March 18. They gave up an almost unbelievable 43 points to Jeff Green, but a strong effort from James propelled the team to its 23rd victory in a row.
Maybe most memorably, Miami traveled to Quicken Loans Arena—the arena James used to call home—on March 20. The team fell behind by 27 in the third quarter, but a 14-point, seven-rebound showing by James in the fourth brought the team back to claim a 98-95 win.
The streak ultimately came to an end on March 27. The Heat failed to take down the Bulls on the road, and they fell short of taking over the No. 1 spot in NBA history.
Miami Starts Sitting Starters
It may seem insignificant on the surface, but with Miami resting starters down the stretch, it has officially declared that nothing else matters until the postseason begins.
Following the 27-game winning streak, Miami put history aside and began focusing on getting players healthy. In fact, it took a page out of Gregg Popovich's book in a matchup with the San Antonio Spurs.
The Heat started Rashard Lewis in place of James, Mike Miller in place of Wade and Norris Cole in place of Mario Chalmers. The group of reserves rallied around Chris Bosh, and it put together an 88-86 win just four days after falling to the Bulls.
Miami has been one of the most entertaining teams to follow, but with the backups earning minutes, the spotlight has started to dim. But fear not, Heat fans. Once the postseason arrives, this team will once again be among the league's most-discussed units.
Win or lose, the Heat grabs headlines. We've already seen them flip the switch, so don't be surprised to see another big run with a championship officially on the line.