SACRAMENTO—There's a chance that fans will flee Sleep Train Arena at first sight of a scary Miami Heat player on Friday night.
You know, Mario Chalmers.
"I was just thinking about that, that they're next," Chalmers said with a smile Wednesday, after Miami won its 19th straight game against the Western Conference, 101-95, against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Chalmers' performance tied Brian Shaw's franchise record for most three-pointers in a game, and he might have had more—Erik Spoelstra took him out to avoid further embarrassing the hapless hosts. The Heat point guard has since watched the tape of that game a handful of times to try to remember and replicate that rhythm. This time, the Kings (with a new coaching staff) will likely play him differently.
"I hope so," Chalmers said. "I hope they try to run me off every shot I have."
We'll see if that is sufficient to stop an even more remarkable Heat run, one that represents a collective achievement. Friday, Chalmers and his teammates have a shot to tie an NBA record that really shouldn't be seriously challenged in this era: 20 consecutive wins against the West.
Over the course of the 1972-73 and 1973-74 seasons, the Boston Celtics of John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Jo Jo White and Paul Silas won that many games in succession against the West. During that time, there was relative balance between the two conferences: In 1972-73, four of the eight East teams and four of the nine West teams were above .500; in 1973-74, four of the eight East teams and five of the nine West teams were.
That balance, of course, does not exist these days.
Entering Thursday's play, only three of the 15 teams in the East were above .500, compared to nine of the 15 teams in the West. The West is so strong that there's an overflow of worthy reserves for the West All-Stars, while it's hard to find enough guys to fill out the East bench.
Since Jan. 14, 2013, the Heat have dominated one of the deepest conferences in recent pro sports history.
The Heat's last regular-season loss to the West came that night in Salt Lake City, two nights after Chalmers got loose in Sacramento, and when the Utah Jazz still had a few formidable veterans, including Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, who combined for 40 points. That game was memorable in part because it was controversial—Erik Spoelstra left Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the bench down the stretch as several subs joined James for a furious, but ultimately futile, rally.
Two nights after that, in Oakland, the Heat rolled to a 30-point point lead over the Golden State Warriors, coasting to the finish to win by 17 and starting a streak that has largely escaped their attention, especially because a 27-game overall winning streak and an NBA championship have come in between.
"Really?" Shane Battier said recently, when told of the history the Heat were approaching. "Wow."
There is a technicality, of course—the Heat lost three times to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2013 NBA Finals.
Still, it's been 346 days since they dropped a regular-season game to anyone from the other, stronger conference.
The last loss was prior to President Obama's Inauguration for a second term, prior to the Baltimore Ravens winning Super Bowl XLVII, prior to pitchers and catchers reporting for 2013 spring training, prior to Pope Benedict XVI resigning, prior to A Good Day to Die Hard polluting America's theaters.
Here are some other facts:
- The Heat are 7-0 against the West this season. The Indiana Pacers are 7-2. The Atlanta Hawks are 6-6. The rest of the East? They are 24-85. That includes five teams with fewer than two out-of-conference wins: the New York Knicks (0-9), Detroit Pistons (1-10), Philadelphia 76ers (1-9), Chicago Bulls (1-7) and Milwaukee Bucks (0-5).
- During the run, the Heat have beaten the Lakers three times; the Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Kings twice; and the Warriors, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Hornets, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Jazz once.
- The Denver Nuggets are the only team the Heat haven't faced during that period. Miami visits Denver on the final game of this road trip, Dec. 30, after winning at the Pepsi Center during the two teams' last meeting on Nov. 15, 2012.
- Miami is outscoring its West opponents by an average of 107.6 to 95.1 during the streak, with a field-goal percentage of 52.4 (compared to 44.9 for opponents), an effective field-goal percentage of 57.7 (compared to 49.7 for opponents) and an offensive rating of 115.97 (compared to 102.74 for opponents).
- James is averaging 28.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists during the streak, and Wade is averaging 23.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists during the streak. And while neither played during one of the streak's most impressive victories (March 31 in San Antonio), Wade's availability has been a major factor in many of the wins. All six of Wade's absences this season have come against the East, with the Heat losing three of those games. He has been in the lineup for 18 of the 19 games during the streak, a Chris Bosh-led triumph against the Spurs representing the only exception.
Now the Heat return to Sacramento, where Chalmers made some Heat history, while falling short of the NBA's all-time mark of three-pointers made (12), shared by Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall.
"I wasn't thinking about anything until I got to eight, and I was trying to figure out what the record was," Chalmers said. "I heard the record was 12, and I was going to go for the record. I got pulled from the game with four minutes left."
He paused, smiling again.
"You've got to let me get the record," he said.
As this road trip continues—with Portland following Sacramento—the Heat will try to make some NBA history. Together. You can bet Spoelstra will let them go all out for that.