(CBSSports) – LeBron James drove to the rim and scored on Miami’s final play, winning a game in memorable fashion and preserving the Heat’s winning streak that has lasted for five weeks.
Still, the Heat are not impressed by, well, themselves these days.
For Miami, 16 playoff wins are the goal – not a 16-game winning streak during the regular season. To the Heat, the regular season is an 82-game tuneup for the challenges that await in April, May and they hope, June – when they’ll try to win the 16 postseason games needed to successfully defend their NBA championship. And that’s why even buzzer-beating wins aren’t sending the Heat locker room into a celebratory frenzy right now.
“We’re enjoying it,” Heat forward Shane Battier said, “but we have bigger goals.”
James scored with 3.2 seconds left on Wednesday night, lifting Miami to a 97-96 win over the Orlando Magic. Miami’s 16th straight victory gave the Heat a 7 1/2-game lead over the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference standings, an 11 1/2-game cushion over the Atlanta Hawks in the Southeast Division and put the reigning champions in line to clinch their playoff spot on Friday – in just the 60th game of the season.
Miami plays at home against Philadelphia on Friday, and a win would match the 12th-longest winning streak in NBA history.
No, the Heat don’t care much about that, either.
“It really doesn’t affect us,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “In a sense, we want to win, and we want to win every game we play. The day it comes where our streak gets broken we move on to the next game. Obviously, it is great, when you look back at it one day and say `Oh, we won that many games in a row.’ But right now, we are just playing.”
Not just playing – playing better than any team in Heat history, at least statistically.
The previous franchise record for a winning streak was 14 games. During this 16-game run, there have been blowouts, double-overtime thrillers and now buzzer-beating victories. Miami has outscored opponents by an average of 11.5 points per game during the streak, and James and Wade have been nothing short of brilliant throughout the run.
By the numbers, since Feb. 3:
– James is averaging 28.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.6 assists on 61 percent shooting.
– Wade is averaging 24.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists, with a NBA-leading plus-minus ratio of 203 along the way as well.
“I haven’t brought it up,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, when asked about the streak. “What we’re trying to do is get better.”
If someone knows that long winning streaks during the season mean little when the stakes are highest, it’s Battier. At Duke, he was on a team that won 32 straight games in one season, and with the Houston Rockets he was part of an epic 22-game winning streak in 2008.
Neither the Blue Devils nor the Rockets won championships in those years.
“It’s hard to win one game in this league, which people don’t realize,” Battier said. “The amount of preparation, the amount of time you have to study your opponent. Even for the most talented team, so much has to go right for you to win one game.”
The 22-game streak in Houston was one that Battier will forever savor because that Rockets team was just not expected to be great.
And for more than a month, they were beyond great.
“It was one of the best times in my basketball career because it was so bizarre,” Battier said. “We came out of nowhere. It was a team that was a pretty good team, a playoff team. We weren’t contenders and we just kept winning. … It was a perfect storm.”
Of course, the expectations in Miami are just a tad higher than what those Rockets faced.
Still, there is a residual benefit from being tested in the regular season, especially when a game is on the line in the final seconds. And the pressure of that moment against the Magic, the pressure – if any exists – of the winning streak, it wasn’t enough to thwart the Heat on Wednesday.
“I don’t know if we relish them,” Battier said of late-game, close-game situations. “There’s a huge benefit because the playoffs are all about executing under stressful situations. And although a regular-season game, even if it’s tight like that can’t replicate the pressure and stress of a playoff game, it’s good to be in those situations just to see how you respond and learn.”
That was the mood in the Heat locker room after Wednesday’s scintillating finish. Another lesson learned, time to move on.
When some players were asked about the potential for things like 20-game winning streaks and putting together one of the longest runs in NBA history, the response was typically no more than a shrug.
“We don’t even talk about it,” James said. “We don’t really get caught up into the streak at all. What we are trying to do is bigger than a streak.”
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