HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — As a card-carrying member of the “Go-For-What-You-Know-Right-Now” club, it pains me to even think about what I’m about to suggest.
But after watching the Miami Heat’s latest comeback effort to keep their win streak (24 games and counting) alive in Cleveland, someone has to go ahead and say it out loud: Chasing the Los Angeles Lakers’ NBA-record 33-game win streak might not be worth the wear and tear, both physical and emotional, that the Heat will have to endure on their way to the playoffs.
Their streak is nothing short of amazing in today’s NBA, a remarkable feat by any measure. You only hope this pursuit of greatness — even with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and their teammates Stephen Jackson-ing pressure situations on the regular — doesn’t break the Heat down later.
Remember, that vaunted Lakers’ team led by Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich went on their 33-game tear from November 5, 1971 to January 9, 1972. Since I wasn’t born back then, I’m making a huge assumption here, but … the Lakers would have had time to wrap themselves up in the streak, process the mind-boggling feat of winning every night out for months, enjoy being untouchable and then move on in plenty of time for the postseason, where they won it all.
They had plenty of time to rest, recover and recharge for the playoffs and their quest for the ultimate prize.
The toll taken on the only other team to chase the streak into this territory since then, the Houston Rockets from 2007-08, however, was substantial.
Heat forward Shane Battier, as integral a piece on that Rockets team as he is now alongside James and Wade, remembers that 22-game grind well. “That was so different, because that streak was pretty organic,” he said. “It came out of left field and no one could explain it. We couldn’t explain it, because it was a bunch of journeymen and role players doing it.
“The thing I remember about that streak was the Laker game, when we won 22. It took everything out of us. Kobe tried to single-handedly beat us on national TV. And it took everything out of us. And Boston came in the next game and kicked our butts. We actually lost four out of five after that. We just were spent emotionally.”
The Heat will have a such a huge cushion in the Eastern Conference standings whenever their streak ends that they’ll be able to survive whatever comes next and stay atop the standings. What they have to guard against, though, is any lingering residue from the streak that could impact their postseason.
This is a team that will not be defined by this streak, but by how they finish the season. And they know as much.
“We have bigger goals,” Battier said. “It’s cool to win , but our main goal is still ahead of us. In Houston, it was so out of left field and no one could explain it. That was fun, because it was truly lightning in a bottle. We appreciate the work and the luck that goes into something like this.”
The marathon that is the 82-game NBA season has built-in pockets where even the greatest of teams need to take advantage of the opportunities to rest their biggest stars. (I am in no way co-signing Gregg Popovich‘s rest tactics for the San Antonio Spurs … but I’m not saying I disagree with his tactics, either.)
I agree with the crowd that believes there is wisdom in preserving the physical well-being of the men who will be charged with collecting 16 playoff wins/ They mean far more than any of the 24 victories in the Heat’s streak.
A day will come when a 27-point deficit will not be worth trying to rally back from, when the burden of this streak, the fatigue of such a monumental endeavor, will not be worth risking what’s to come.
“We’re aware, and it’s a special opportunity that we have with this group,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said earlier this week, before sweating through that Cleveland comeback. “And you don’t want to take it for granted. You want to treat every day as a special opportunity to be with this group, to share these moments together, but more importantly to take a step closer to going after our goal. And every day that we improve puts us in a better position in a quest where nothing is guaranteed for anybody.”
He’s absolutely right about that quest. Nothing is guaranteed, especially in the postseason. So it’s best to go in as physically and mentally ready as possible.