Their winning streak finally over, the Miami Heat did Thursday what they had planned to do all along.
They took the day off.
While the circus atmosphere around the team may slow down now – until the playoffs start, anyway – the way the reigning NBA champions go about their business over the final 11 games of the regular season probably will not. Miami’s epic, historic, sometimes-mindboggling 27-game winning streak ended with a 101-97 loss to the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night, and Heat guard Dwyane Wade was among those sounding absolutely relieved afterward.
“It really didn’t matter to us,” Wade said. “If you get it, it’s awesome. If you don’t, we still won 27 games in a row. That’s pretty awesome. So, we really weren’t like, ‘We’ve got to get that record.’ Not at all. And now that it’s over, I’m glad it’s over.”
Next up: Tonight at New Orleans, where the Heat will try to return to their winning ways.
Miami’s quest for NBA history ended with the Heat six games shy of matching the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers for the league’s longest winning streak. The Lakers will keep their record, but the biggest Lakers star of this generation offered the Heat plenty of respect when their run was over.
“I think just as a student of the game, as a fan of the game, you appreciate those kind of streaks and you realize how difficult it is to put together that big of a streak,” Lakers star Kobe Bryant said after learning of the Heat loss. “Obviously the Lakers winning 33 in a row was phenomenal, but the Heat’s one was just as impressive.”
Still, the Heat insist they can get better.
When Indiana beat the Heat Feb. 1, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra’s postgame theme was that his club had to get better. Nearly two months later, when the Heat streak ended in Chicago, much of Spoelstra’s postgame remarks had the same theme.
Players understood his point.
“At the end of the day, a win is a win in our league,” said reigning MVP LeBron James, who averaged exactly 27 points per game during the 27-game winning streak. “We’ve gotten better throughout the season. Each and every month we’ve improved. We’ve started from behind some games, but for the most part we’ve played some great basketball. We’re not a team that builds bad habits. That’s not even who we are so we’re not worried about that.”
No matter how they did it, no matter how many double-digit deficits they erased or fourth-quarter comebacks they pulled off, the bottom line was Miami enjoyed 7½ weeks of dominance.
Entering Thursday, 10 NBA teams hadn’t won 27 games yet this season.
“Really proud of the grind of the last few weeks from my guys,” Miami forward Shane Battier, who was part of a 32-game win streak at Duke, 22 with the Houston Rockets and now 27 with the Heat, wrote on Twitter early Thursday. “The focus and effort (and luck) was phenomenal.”
Battier closed that tweet with two hashtagged words – onward and upwards.
Whether it was because they were revered or reviled, the Heat probably got more eyeballs on NBA regular-season basketball than any team had in some time, with people watching to root for either the streak continuing or the streak ending.
They were must-see TV, as proven by national networks like ESPN and NBA TV scrambling to pick up Heat games as the streak rolled along. ESPN said the overnight rating for Heat-Bulls was the fifth-best of any regular-season game ever shown on the network.
Media coverage was as intense as any time during the Big Three era in Miami. On Monday in Orlando, the visiting locker room was overwhelmed by reporters. And Wednesday in Chicago, Wade freely said he was ready for the circus to end.
“I don’t know who half you people are,” Wade said.
For those who still need streaks to follow, there’s plenty of options.
Women’s basketball is chock-full of them right now, with Baylor (32), Notre Dame (28) and Delaware (27) all taking streaks that at least match the Heat run into NCAA regional games this weekend. The NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins were seeking a 14th straight win against Winnipeg last night. In men’s college basketball, Louisville takes a 12-game winning streak into its Midwest Regional semifinal against Oregon tonight.
As far as the NBA goes, the longest current winning streak now belongs to the New York Knicks – a mere six games.
What the Heat did obviously won’t be exceeded this season, and probably not for a while. If Miami won every game left on its schedule and swept all four playoff series, they would end the year with another 27-game winning streak.
Don’t count on that one happening. Bryant may have tipped his cap to the Heat, but not all the Lakers were exactly heartbroken that their franchise will keep the record.
“We kept the streak,” Lakers center Pau Gasol said. “And it’s about time that Miami lost.”
During the streak – starting from the moment Miami lost in Indiana Feb. 1 to the final buzzer in Chicago – every other NBA team lost at least five times. Nearly two-thirds of the league lost at least 10 games. Orlando lost more than anyone else, falling on 23 occasions. Maybe the biggest sign of Miami’s dominance was that 12 teams endured more defeats during the streak than the Heat had lost all season.
Starting Friday, they begin another chapter.
“Now that it’s over,” Wade said, “let’s look back on it as something that was great.”