HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Now it’s time to get serious about this streak.
The players in the Miami Heat locker room can downplay it all they want, but the pressure is on now. They’ve captured win No. 22, tying the Houston Rockets for the second-longest win streak in NBA history and the Los Angeles Lakers’ record 33-game streak is within their grasp, theoretically.
There is that little business to handle in Boston Monday night, against the same team that ended the Rockets’ streak five years ago to the day. And this is the same Boston team that has served as the nemesis for the Heat (the past two years) and LeBron James (for years before that while he was in Cleveland), before the guys in green got their AARP cards and lost Rajon Rondo for the season.
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They don’t pen scripts this rich in Hollywood these days — reigning champs show up on hated rival’s doorstep with a chance to continue their dominance and continue their historical chase with all the world watching (on ESPN). But that’s exactly what we’ll have to feast on Monday night, thanks to the Heat’s disposal of the Raptors in Toronto this afternoon for win No. 22 in their championship march.
A week ago, fresh off of their pounding of the Indiana Pacers at American Airlines Arena, man after man in the Miami locker room stressed that the streak was not on their minds. It wasn’t an issue, not for a team focused on bigger things.
“We’re just in a good place right now,” said Heat veteran Ray Allen then. “For me personally, it doesn’t really play into our conscience.
“Our goal day-to-day is to continually get better. Every team we play gets tougher. There is an emphasis right now on the small things. We know our weaknesses and strengths and we try to play to our strengths as much as we can. We know if we take care of the small things we give ourselves a great chance to win every night. And that’s the most important thing. We don’t want to have a mishap and start looking too far ahead, focusing on ourselves and what a great team we have. Our goal is to stay focused and keep grinding it out.”
Sure, of course it is. But that was before they crossed the 20-game threshold; before Allen shredded the Raptors for 16 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter of a hotly contested game (for a while) for win No. 22; before they peaked ahead and realized that No. 23 could come at the expense of the Celtics, one of the few teams that would have this game circled and highlighted the same way the Heat would (if they were completely honest with us about what it means to be in the midst of such a historic run).
There will be not shortage of reminders of not only what’s at stake Monday night, but also who can prevent the Heat from moving another step closer to that record — the Celtics, of all teams. Allen’s old teammates. The same crew that served as the Heat’s biggest hurdle last season on their way to the Finals and that Larry O’Brien trophy.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers can get his team riled up on a regular Monday, with just a few choice words and just the right poke at a particular player. The Heat coming to town under these circumstances is motivational gold, the fire starter any Eastern Conference playoff outfit worth it’s spit in the pecking order lives for.
Allen knows this better than anyone, having won 19 in a row with the Celtics during the 2008-09 season alongside Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rondo.
You’re either the hunter or the hunted in this situation. And both offer a certain level of excitement for all involved. Toss in the fact that there isn’t a city, franchise or team that appreciates the rich history of this game more than the Boston, the Celtics and this particular crew, and you can see why they are so eager for their crack at the Heat.
“What does [a win Monday] get you when you play Atlanta in the first round?” Rivers told ESPNBoston.com. “It doesn’t do anything that you beat Miami. [Another opponent] could care less. If you caught Miami later [in the postseason]? I guess, for us, knowing that you can beat them, but we already know that. We’ve beaten them earlier in the year. But you still want to beat them, they are the world champs, they are playing great — you don’t need any extra reason to want to beat them. At least we don’t. They face this every night, though. And it’s what we faced in 2008-09 [as defending champions], every night. That’s what makes their streak so impressive to me, they are getting the best from teams and still winning.”
The Heat certainly won’t get the Celtics’ very best, even though they’ve been a revelation without Rondo, piling up a 16-6 record since they lost him to that season-ending ACL tear.
Garnett is supposed to be “50/50 at best” for Monday night’s game. He’s battling an adductor muscle strain that kept him out of a Saturday night win over the Charlotte Bobcats.
But you can imagine how that Monday morning assessment of his readiness will go? As long as everything is connected …
“When you go on a 10-game winning streak it’s always commendable because of the way the schedule goes,” Allen said. “You play on the road and at home, Western Conference and Eastern Conference. Some teams there are just bad matchups. You’re just learning how to win. For us, we’ve been in situations where it looked like we should have lost the game, but we put ourselves in situations to make plays down the stretch. We’ve learned how to play the game down the stretch — starting quarters and finishing quarters — those are the little things that help you win games. And then doing it on someone else’s floor, winning that many in a row, it’s always great.
“But you don’t always get a prize for it. We know what our prize is and it’s waiting for us.”
The Celtics are waiting for them, too, Monday night in Boston.