HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — A question on Twitter about the Miami Heat’s 23-game win streak seemed to bring up a fair point: If the Heat played in the West would LeBron James and Co. be the new owners of the second-longest streak in NBA history?
The Denver Nuggets play in the West and they’ve won 12 in a row, so stacking wins is not impossible in a stacked conference. But with rested Oklahoma City (50-17) waiting for tonight’s matchup (8 ET, NBA TV) following the Nuggets’ overtime escape from Chicago on Monday, getting No. 13 will take serious work. Four games later, Denver’s road leads to San Antonio.
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The Nuggets’ streak, though, illustrates the superiority of the West over the East. Denver is now 46-22, which would put the Nuggets 5 1/2 games in front of the East’s third-place New York Knicks, victim No. 14 in the Heat’s streak. The Nuggets would be seven games behind Miami — or 4 1/2 games closer than the East’s second-place team, the Indiana Pacers, Heat victim No. 18.
In the West, 24 games over .500 is good for only the fifth seed. Denver still has one more loss than the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies, both teams the Nuggets have defeated during their run.
Flip it around, and the Pacers’ 41 wins would get them no better than the sixth seed in the West. The West has five teams with at least 45 wins compared to just one in the East (and you know who that it is).
Still, the Heat can only play the teams on their schedule. Their last eight wins during this incredible streak have come against Eastern foes, with half of those being current playoff teams. There have been some close calls (Orlando, Philadelphia), but the toughest battle came Monday night with a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter of the second game of a road back-to-back against the proud Boston Celtics, who were playing without Kevin Garnett.
The Heat started their streak by steamrolling Houston, the Clippers, Lakers and Oklahoma City before the All-Star break for wins Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 7. The Heat averaged 110.5 points in those games and won by an average margin of 12 points. All except the Thunder game, a wire-to-wire rout in which Miami led by as much as 23, were played on the Heat’s home floor. Win No. 6 was also at home, 117-104 over Portland.
Win No. 13 was a home struggle against burly Memphis, perhaps the most well-equipped team to beat the Heat with its two talented big men and sturdy defense. The 98-91 loss at Miami was the Grizzlies’ lone blemish in their recent 14-1 roll.
Win No. 12 was a wild, double-overtime triumph at home against the upstart Sacramento Kings, and win No. 15, the Heat’s last game against the West, was a 97-81 waltz at depleted Minnesota.
With the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers’ all-time win streak of 33 now the lone target left, next up for the Heat are four East bottom-feeders — at Cleveland, Detroit, Charlotte and at Orlando — followed by a challenging road game at Chicago and then at West lightweight New Orleans.
If Miami nabs all six, the streak will stand at 29. And then, on March 31, it’s off to a West outpost the Heat haven’t visited since March 4, 2011 — San Antonio — for a Sunday evening showdown on NBA TV.