Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – LeBron James is heading back to Cleveland Wednesday night. But unlike the past trips, the focus won’t be completely on James, but rather the entire Heat team as they look for the team’s 24th consecutive victory.
The all-time NBA record winning streak is 33 games set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. While the Heat may not have had that goal when the team started the streak in early February, anything seems possible with the team playing the way they are right now.
It helps when Cleveland, already one of the worst teams in the league, is also decimated by injuries. Cavs guard Kyrie Irving is out along with fellow guard Dion Waiters. Those injuries are on top of the season ending ailment to center Anderson Varejao.
The Cavs are expected to start the following lineup against the Heat Wednesday night: point guard Shaun Livingston; shooting guard Wayne Ellington; small forward Alonzo Gee; power forward Tristan Thompson; and center Tyler Zeller.
While the best response to that lineup may be, yikes, the Heat have displayed a tendency during the streak to play to the level of their competition. Plus, in a few games recently, the Heat have squeaked by with a last-second save from LeBron James.
This was true during Monday night’s game against the Heat’s bitter rival, the Boston Celtics. After being down by 17 and 13 point deficits, the Heat rallied and LeBron hit a game-winning jumper to extend the streak.
“I know the history of the game. To be sitting in second place right now … for us to be there and doing it in the way we want to do it, it means a lot.”
It also means a lot that Miami (52-14) won’t be visiting many playoff-bound teams any time soon. Five of their next six games are against teams with the worst records this season, starting with Cleveland (22-45).
With the loss of Waiters and Irving, the Cavaliers lost 43 combined points from the last time the teams played on February 24th. Cleveland has lost three straight and seven of its last nine games.
While LeBron has gotten the lion’s share of attention, and rightly so as the likely NBA most valuable player, he’s been given a huge lift from Dwyane Wade, whose play has returned to the level it was before injuries limited him the last two years.
Not only have James and Wade been giving the Heat a potent one-two punch, but scoring is coming from all over the floor. On any given night, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and even Chris Anderson can go for double-figures.
It’s literally become pick your poison when you gameplan against the Heat. If team’s double-team James, Wade is usually one-on-one or can find a wide-open teammate who can dial it up from long distance in the blink of an eye.
As long as the shots keep falling from the outside, Miami will continue to win. It doesn’t hurt that the Heat’s next two games after Cleveland will be in the friendly confines of the AmericanAirlines Arena against the Charlotte Bobcats and Detroit Pistons.
Miami is 30-3 this season at home and 29-9 against teams from the Eastern Conference. The last time the Heat lost at home was a 96-89 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bulls on January 4. The Bulls loss at home is the only home loss during the current calendar year.
Still, the first job is to get past the Cavaliers and take things one game at a time.
“It’s a special opportunity that we have with this group and you don’t want to take it for granted,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You want to treat every day as a special opportunity to be with this group, to share these moments together, but more importantly to take a step closer to going after our goal and every day that we improve puts us in a better position in a quest where nothing is guaranteed for anybody.”