The Los Angeles Lakers made it look easy when they racked up win after win after win for an NBA-record 33 straight games.
The Miami Heat, not so much.
Those Lakers of 1971-72 won 17 games during that streak by 15 points or more. The Heat take more of a grind-it-out approach, often getting into trouble before flipping a switch and pulling away.
“We’re going to get everybody’s best shot because of the streak,” Heat guard Mario Chalmers said.
That’s why instead of savoring the 27 in a row they’ve already won, the Heat are bracing for perhaps one of the biggest road tests so far in their pursuit of those Lakers. Miami plays at Chicago on Wednesday night, a renewal of a rivalry that, on paper, certainly has lost some of the sparkle it had a year or two ago.
The Bulls still don’t have injured point guard Derrick Rose back in the lineup and have lost 13 of their last 22 games. Still, the Heat expect a playoff-type, rough-and-tumble meeting.
“Our historic run is about winning championships,” Heat star LeBron James said. “That’s what we want to be known for. It’s part of a process. Whatever comes in between that, we can be excited about it. We didn’t have a goal in mind to say, ‘Let’s go on a long consecutive win streak,’ but our goal is to win every game when we are on the floor.”
In recent days, that hasn’t been easy. Boston had the Heat down by 17 early and 13 in the fourth quarter. Cleveland put Miami in a 27-point hole, and in Detroit and Charlotte, the Heat trailed by 11 before pulling away. On Monday night, the Orlando Magic and Heat were tied late in the third quarter before James keyed a 20-2 run that changed everything.
“We like knowing we have that switch,” guard Dwyane Wade said. “We just don’t want to use it too much.”
Chicago has already beaten the Heat once this season, on Miami’s home floor. On Friday, the Heat head to New Orleans, where the Hornets just snapped Denver’s 15-game winning streak. And Sunday’s game at San Antonio is against not only the Western Conference leader and potential NBA Finals opponent, but also likely will have huge implications for the No. 1 overall playoff seed.
Whether the opponent is a playoff team like Chicago or a lottery-bound club, James said the approach has been steady.
“It has been tough all year,” he said. “It hasn’t been easy for us at all. Every team has given us their best. We know that Chicago is going to be a tough game for us, and playing in that building. We want to come out with our game plan … and give ourselves a chance to win.”
Since Miami landed James and Chris Bosh to play alongside Wade in the summer of 2010, no team has confounded the Heat more than the Bulls, and it’s not even close. The Heat and Bulls have played 14 times since then, each team winning seven, and Miami averaged only 90.1 points in those games. That’s six points less than they averaged against anyone else in that span, and 11 points shy of what they typically score against the rest of the league.
“You can’t necessarily gauge them against other teams,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Monday night, after Miami topped Orlando 108-94. “When they play against us, it’s highly competitive. We’ve played them in the playoffs. All of our games have been physical and hotly contested. You have to deal with the physical aspect but also the mental aspect of staying with it, grinding possessions.”
Moments after the Heat extended their winning streak to 27, Spoelstra urged his team to be “ grateful for this opportunity and stay in this moment.”
That’s his way of saying, yes, enjoy the moment but don’t lose sight of the only goal that matters — another NBA title. That’s what the players talked about in the locker room after the Orlando game, as they wolfed down chicken, pasta and vegetables and headed to the bus.
“To be honest with you, we don’t really think about the streak,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said.
“People might find this hard to believe, but if you start thinking about a streak, that’s when you slip up. If you start thinking about the Lakers’ record, that’s when you’re going to slip up.”
Besides, streaks don’t come with championship rings.
“Not at all,” Haslem said.