Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami Heat entered into elite company Wednesday night when the team won its 20th straight game, becoming only the fourth team in NBA history to accomplish the feat in one season.
“Twenty is special,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “Win 20 games in a row, it’s awesome. You can’t get around it. We’re going to try to go for the next one.”
Lost in the streak has been the Heat have become both what opposing fans and coaches have feared since Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh joined forces in the summer of 2010, pretty much unstoppable.
But, the Heat is much more than just the Big Three. The team is the sum of some of the best players in the league who have sacrificed personal stats and glory for the Heat. It’s what fans have clamored for years to see, unselfishness in an era of egos large enough to build empires.
The Heat have won in a variety of ways from blowing out teams to needing a last second shot by James to save the day against an overmatched Orlando Magic team.
“Wherever the game takes us in those 48 minutes, we’re ready for it,” James said.
While James is undoubtedly the most valuable player in any basketball league, he’s gotten a major lift from Wade. The All-Star guard looks revived after dealing with injuries late last season and surgery in the offseason.
Against the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday night, Wade and James combined for 48 points, 15 rebounds, and 11 assists. Wade’s game is getting back to the way he played in the season before James and Bosh arrived.
Still, from game to game it could be anyone on the Heat’s roster who could dramatically shift the game. Just a few games ago, point guard Mario Chalmers led the team in scoring while Shane Battier and Ray Allen have hit big shot after big shot off the bench.
The Heat have done all of this during the 20 game winning streak while keeping Joel Anthony, Rashard Lewis, and Mike Miller on the bench. It’s a luxury no other coach in the NBA can claim, but with that luxury has brought extra scrutiny for head coach Erik Spoelstra.
Despite a 20-game winning streak, a championship season last year, and an NBA Finals appearance the year before that, Spoelstra is rarely mentioned as a coach of the year candidate. Still, he’s adapted his system to the team and the team has responded better than anyone outside of Pat Riley could have expected.
The unselfishness theme is one that all of the Heat has embraced, from Spoelstra all the way to the end of the bench.
“It shows you he, like many of our guys, are just willing to make winning plays at the end,” coach Erik Spoelstra said about Wade’s crucial tip-in against the 76ers Wednesday.
The last team to win at least 20 consecutive games in the same season was the 2007-08 Houston Rockets squad that won 22 games in a row. Currently at 20 games, the Heat is tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the third longest streak in NBA history.
The 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers hold the record for the longest winning streak ever at 33 straight games.
Interestingly enough, the shooting guard on that Lakers squad has a key piece in not only that streak, but also the ascension of the Heat. The man involved in both of the streaks, Pat Riley.
Riley was dealing with some pretty elite company then, namely Gail Goodrich, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, and Elgin Baylor. Riley has built up an equally elite team now with the Heat and Miami is now chasing the Lakers.
“You have to have a unique group that are willing to sacrifice, a unique group willing to keep perspective of what we’re playing for and not get caught up in all the noise outside,” Spoelstra said. “There are so many distractions, not only in this league, but everyday life.”
Incidentally, the team that stopped the Lakers’ winning streak was the Milwaukee Bucks, who Miami plays this Friday. In an even better twist, if the Heat is to break the 33-game winning streak the victory that would give Miami the record would come against, the Milwaukee Bucks on April 9.
Eventually Miami’s luck will run out and the final horn will sound with the Heat behind on the scoreboard. But as the current streak has shown, the Heat has put together something special by leaving their egos at the door and focusing on the greater good of the team first.