News Column

Heat Hits the Afterburners in Quest for 20 in a Row

Mar 10 2013 10:00PM

Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel

To say the upcoming back-to-back set of games against the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers is momentous would appear hyperbole.

The Heat, after all, are poised to sweep the four-game season series against the Hawks and have won 13 consecutive regular season games from the 76ers.

But the difference between an 18-game winning streak and hitting 20 in a row would place this Miami Heat team in rarified air, with only four previous NBA teams to win at least that many in a row.

"You don't want to take a team like this for granted," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We've talked about this with our group for the last few days. It's a special group. It's a special opportunity."

Special enough to challenge the NBA's all-time record of 33 in a row by a 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers team that featured Heat President Pat Riley as a reserve? That remains a distant challenge.

But by getting to 20 in a row by midweek, with the Hawks visiting Tuesday and the Heat playing Wednesday in Philadelphia, the Heat would join those Lakers, the 2007-08 Houston Rockets (22 in a row), 1948-49 Washington Capitols (20) and 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks (20) as the only teams to win 20 in a row, with the Capitols' streak split over two seasons.

To Spoelstra, it is a ride to be savored, particularly in light of a second championship remaining the ultimate goal, and with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh holding opt-out clauses for the 2014 offseason.

"Nothing is guaranteed," said Spoelstra, who gave his team Monday off. "We're going after something that's an unknowable future. But we have an opportunity, a legitimate opportunity, so we have to make the most of every day we have together."

Having spent a career chasing the legends of the game, James sees no reason to shortchange the current quest, now carrying the longest winning streak of a defending NBA Most Valuable Player.

"I understand the history of the game," he said. "We should be happy and excited about the opportunity right now, with how many great teams, how many great players have come through this league.

"And to be in that class is great, especially with this team. It is a special team."

Prior to Sunday's victory over the Indiana Pacers, Lakers Hall of Fame point guard Magic Johnson said that Riley stressed to him concerns even amid the winning.

"When you think about the Miami Heat, they have really started to focus on what they have to work on to be a repeat champion," he said. "I talked to Pat Riley on Friday and he said, 'We're really not playing that well. We're not playing our best basketball. We're playing just good enough to beat everybody.' He says they have room for improvement and he's looking for that improvement."

Sunday clearly was a step forward, not only because of the breakthrough victory over the Pacers, after starting 0-2 in that three-game season series, but because of how the Heat did it, overcoming a season-low13 points from James with across-the-board contributions from others.

"You can't win an Oscar," Wade said, "unless everybody does their job."

With Sunday's victory, the Heat became just the 12th team since the NBA expanded to 30 teams in 2004-05 to beat the 29 other teams in the same season, matching the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns as the quickest to do it, in their 61st game of the season.

As for the streak, it now has come full circle, beginning following a Feb. 1 loss in Indiana. The Heat had started stockpiling victories even before the streak, winning five of seven before the current roll, making it 23 victories in their last 25 games, including 14 in a row at home.

"Right now, honestly, it doesn't really feel like we are on this kind of win streak," Wade said. "We are just coming in and we're just taking care of business. We come in every day when Coach calls us in, and we do our work and we come back and we just play.

"We're not in the locker room saying, 'Aw, we're on this win streak and it's amazing.' To us, we're just playing basketball."

But that doesn't mean they're not enjoying the spoils.

"When you can win like this," guard Ray Allen said, "we can go home, we can breathe easier, food tastes better, it makes life a lot better."

And they want more.

"This team," Wade said, "lives for challenges."

Varnado back

The Heat recalled rookie center Jarvis Varnado from their NBA Development League affiliate following Sunday's game. Varnado appeared in five games (four starts) for the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Skyforce, averaging 9.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.20 blocked shots while shooting .439 percent from the field . . . Monday marked the final day on the 10-day contract signed by veteran power forward Juwan Howard. Players may be signed to up to two 10-day contracts, after which they must either be signed for the balance of the season or released.

iwinderman@tribune.com. Follow him at twitter.com/iraheatbeat



Source: (c)2013 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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