To get an even better sense of what the Miami Heat are trying to accomplish, it’s worth noting that for them to set the NBA record for most consecutive victories, they still have to go on an eight-game winning streak, a feat few teams accomplish each season. But when a team has won 26 in a row eight seems inevitable.
And at this point in this incredible run, victory does seem inevitable for the Heat, no matter who they’re facing and now matter how big the deficit. Last Wednesday I was playing basketball and checked the Heat’s score against Cleveland. Miami trailed by 22 at the time, having already cut into a 27-point deficit. I announced the score to the other guys and all but one guy said, “Heat will win.” One other player hedged a few minutes later when I said the Heat still trailed by nine entering the fourth. It was a nine-point deficit, he noted. That’s still a good lead. Two minutes later LeBron had tied the game and Miami was on its way to another victory.
The 33-game streak by the Lakers in 1972 was certainly one of those team records that few ever expected to fall, or to even be challenged. Perhaps only UCLA’s 88-game streak in men’s college basketball is considered as unbreakable. And it’s safe to say Wooden and Walton’s mark is still out of reach. No Division I team has gone unbeaten since the 1976 Indiana team and think about a team going undefeated these days. Think about how good that team would be in today’s world of college hoops parity. Now try to imagine any of the five starters returning the following season instead of leaving for the NBA.
So one LA team’s record will last another 40 years, but another’s might only be around for a couple of weeks. Once the Heat reached 15-16 straight, I started looking ahead and noticed they had a few stretches filled with easy teams. As someone who doesn’t want that Lakers mark to fall — who will remember Gail Goodrich if this record heads east? — I started to worry but also to prognosticate. I thought Milwaukee could take a game from the Heat on the Bucks’ home court but Miami was never threatened. Even without Kevin Garnett I figured Boston would continue their regular-season mastery over the Heat and when the Celtics held a 13-point lead in the fourth it seemed West and Wilt were safe. But then the Heat turned up their defense in a way that separates them from everyone else, as LeBron, Wade and Battier can disrupt any team’s perimeter offense. Offensively either LeBron or Wade take over, and there are nights Bosh will throw in 25 while Battier and Ray Allen join Mario Chalmers in knocking down game-breaking 3s.
It’s a formula that won a title and it’s what they’ve used for 26 victories in a row. Where’s it end now? The next three games are on the road against Orlando, Chicago and New Orleans. The 30th victory in a row? That would have to come in San Antonio, against the Spurs, although knowing Gregg Popovich he might sit Duncan, Parker and Manu just to prove some odd Popovichian point.
A friend of mine actually thinks it will be one of the league’s lesser teams that ends the streak. Miami had close calls against teams like Orlando, Sacramento and Cleveland and the Heat do seem to take those games lightly but simply overwhelm the opposition with their physical superiority. But they might rely on that strategy one too many times and fall behind by too much and simply run out of steam. Against the league’s better teams — OKC, Memphis — Miami is focused from the tipoff, a mindset they’d surely take against San Antonio.
I still don’t expect the Heat to reach 34, or even 33. I could see Chicago grinding out an ugly game in the 80s and I definitely think the Spurs would take care of it in San Antonio. But as much as I want the Lakers to maintain the mark, it’s been incredibly fun watching the Heat this past month. Watching teams or players make history provides memories that will last three or four decades, until another team challenges another unbreakable record.
Here are the Bucks ending the Lakers’ streak 41 years ago.
It took Kareem and the champion Bucks to stop the Lakers. It’ll be more memorable if future Hall of Famers like Duncan end this one. Watching Miami fail to lose any of the past 26 games it’s hard to believe it’s actually lost 14 times. It’s been thrilling watching the Heat avoid that 15th loss, but I think we’ll see it soon. Then again, I’ve thought that for two weeks.