MIAMI – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat are riding high on their historic-but-not-yet history-making 27-game winning streak.
What every NBA follower wants to know now is which the game the Heat is most likely to lose — Chicago tomorrow? San Antonio over the weekend? The Knicks in the game after that? Those are the toughest obstacles in the way of the Heat eclipsing the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers’ record 33-game winning streak.
I’m not sure whether the Heat will tie or surpass that mark.
But I know that if they do it, it’ll be because of their mental toughness more than their physical skill.
The two most likely streak-busting games are Wednesday in Chicago and Sunday in San Antonio.
But don’t overlook Friday’s game at New Orleans (ICYMI, the Pelicans – without Greivis Vasquez or Eric Gordon – ended Denver’s 15-game streak last night, winning by a mere 24). In fact, Miami’s streak has taken on such a life of its own, you cannot overlook any game. Every opponent probably knows when they will face the Heat. Every team is dangerous.
OK, maybe Charlotte wasn’t dangerous. But as the streak has surpassed the 20-game mark, it’s gotten progressively tougher for the Heat to win.
Yes, the Heat is more talented than almost every other NBA team. But right now this streak is as much a mental test as it is a physical test.
At, say, 15 or 18 consecutive wins, the streak was amazing. Now it is nearing historic proportions. The Heat are an even bigger target than they were as the much-hyped, star-studded defending champs.
“I think it’s on everyone else’s radar right now with just where we are being in second place all time in most consecutive wins,” James said.
The Heat notices the difference with their opponents.
Big Three forward Chris Bosh, the most candid member of the trio, was asked after the Charlotte victory if the streak is physically exhausting.
“Yes,” he said. “It is.”
The mental exhaustion is probably worse.
Granted, the Heat might be the most uniquely qualified team in the NBA to handle such a streak. We all recall the immense pressure this team was under two seasons ago when it was first assembled. The 9-8 start. Bump-Gate. Losing to Dallas in the Finals. LeBron being labeled a choker, again.
The Heat handled that pressure so well they came back to win a title.
But this is different. It’s not staying focused long enough to win a best-of-seven series, it’s staying focused long enough to win, every night, for more than two months. This is staying focused every game.
The Heat already have proven they don’t necessarily need to stay focused every minute of every game. How else could Cleveland be allowed to build a 27-point lead?
Still, it’s a heavy burden, they’re a bigger target, and it is a nightly grind.