MIAMI — March is the month of Madness for college basketball fans around the world. Rarely has it served a similar purpose for NBA fans.
“March is kind of a funky time in the NBA,” said Heat forward Shane Battier. “Once you hit April you start smelling the playoffs a little bit.”
But the Miami Heat, with a huge assist from the Denver Nuggets, are doing their best to change that. The Heat’s winning streak is a whopping 25 games, second best all time in the NBA, and could be 26 before the nightly news ends if they handle their business against the Charlotte Bobcats this evening at AmericanAirlines Arena (pregame 5:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV).
Some of the craziest and best moments of the Heat streak, which began Feb. 3 in Toronto, have come this month.
Payback wins over would-be Eastern Conference challengers New York (March 3) and Indiana (March 10) as well as dramatic finishes against Orlando (March 6) and wild comeback wins over Boston (March 18) and Cleveland (March 20) have all come during the 13 games the Heat have won this month.
The Heat haven’t exactly breezed through the competition during this streak. They’ve had to work for almost every win, which is what makes Heat coach Erik Spoelstra smile with the Bobcats and Magic up next before a Monday trip to Orlando kicks off a four-game road trip, with stops in Chicago Wednesday, New Orleans Friday and San Antonio Sunday, to finish off the month.
“However it is happening, teams are coming at us,” he said. “That’s a good thing. We can’t sleep walk into a game. We have to bring it. We have to play well at both ends. We have to dig. We have to earn wins. And we’re playing against our opponents’ best games. That only helps. That sharpens you. The more you get tested in this league, the better you get, as long as you handle it the right way. I like it. I like that every game we’re getting tested.”
The Heat have embraced everything about this streak, everything from the sluggish starts and dramatic finishes to the seemingly endless supply of questions about the streak itself and the chase to catch and surpass the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers’ record 33-game streak.
“It is awesome,” Dwyane Wade said. “It is cool. If you think about it, there are teams in the league right now that don’t even have 25 wins for the season. You have to be thankful and very blessed to be in this situation right now and enjoy it while you have it.”
That doesn’t mean they’ve lost sight of what will define this season for them for years to come. Heat big man Chris Bosh said a recent discussion with a friend about the streak record compared to a championship provided him with what should be an obvious choice.
“I’m going to take the championship every time,” Bosh said. “You don’t get a plaque or a ring or nothing for 34 in a row. You get a record that will probably be broken one day. Records are meant to be broken. But championships last forever.
“Someone was telling me it’s way cooler to win 34 [in a row]. I’m like, ‘Man, please! Get out of here with that. They won’t be throwing confetti for that. I’ll guaran-damn-tee you that.’ ”
When word spread that Jerry West and other members of the Lakers’ 33-game streak team gushed about this Heat crew and wished them well in their quest to break the streak, Wade didn’t buy it.
“I don’t believe it,” Wade said and then laughed. “I don’t believe it.”
Resident hoops historian LeBron James, however, had a different reaction.
“I just appreciate it,” he said of the praise from West and others. “I appreciate the history. For them to say they are pulling for us to get the streak, that’s cool. I respect the game and I respect the guys who paved the way for me and the rest of my teammates. That is a cool thing [for them to do], but we have a long way to go and cannot focus on that right now.”
No, they can’t. The immediate focus is Charlotte, the rest of this month’s schedule — which includes those two road traps in Chicago and San Antonio — and trying to finish off their version of March Madness in style.