Did the Heat streak matter? by Chris Barbee and Drew Jurgensen

Why it didn’t matter

While the Heat’s streak was obviously impressive and historic, in the end, it did not matter that much.  It certainly doesn’t matter as much as the coverage of it would lead you to believe – although to be fair, the coverage was centered around the quest for it “mattering” and has died down significantly now that it’s over. 

I am one of the few non-Floridians that actually like the Heat.  I like Lebron, I like Wade, Bosh is kind of soft, but he’s got some undeniable skills.  I like the “Big 3” and how they’ve both shaken the NBA[1], but also drawn a lot of attention to it.  Fans love to hate, and Lebron and Co give them a great target.  But even though I love the Heat and what they’ve done, I still don’t think the streak mattered.  And here’s why.

1.       They didn’t actually break a record. 

“You play to win the game!” is a great Herm Edwards quote and by tweaking it just a bit we can apply it here – “You play to beat the streak.”  And they didn’t.  The Heat came up a few games short.  Nobody plays for second.  Nobody cares the Thunder played in, but didn’t win, the Finals last year.  And nobody should care the Heat have the second longest winning streak of all time.  It was impressive, yes, but it was in the end, just a winning streak.  It isn’t a record.

2.       Level of competition

I’m citing SportsCenter here so I hope they were right, and that I’m remembering it correctly, but during the streak the Heat beat only 5 teams above .500.  Some of this has to do with them playing in the East, some is just the luck of scheduling, but either way the Heat were beating up on bad teams during the dog days of the season.  And then they proceeded to lose to a Bulls team without Joakim Noah or Derrick Rose. 

Also, because it was a historic streak we have to compare it to other streaks, with the ’72 Lakers streak being the obvious choice.  Lebron mentioned the Heat’s streak was actually MORE impressive than the Lakers because, he claimed, there were two leagues back then, therefore there was a whole group of talent that the Lakers never had to play.  This, I hate to say it, is wrong.  The ABA and NBA were not compatible leagues – just as the NFL and CFL are not.  Though the talent difference wasn’t as drastic as my admittedly weak analogy, it existed.  The NBA had better players than the ABA.  Simple as that.  Though the ABA had some huge stars (Dr. J, Moses Malone, etc.), the role players in the ABA were castoffs – essentially D-league players these days.  What I’m trying to say is, the Lakers streak was actually MORE impressive in terms of competition because the league they played in was actually more dense than the current NBA, which has been watered down over the years by expansion.

3.       It was just a streak

The 71-72 Lakers had a “Big 3” too.

The final reason it didn’t matter is basically that it wasn’t a championship.  I hate having to use this argument since I don’t think it’s valid most of the time[2] but here it applies.  Even if they had beaten the record, in the end it’s just a streak during the regular season.  Streaks are good for the fans (of that team) and for NBA history buffs, but that’s about it. 

Paradoxically, if they win the championship this year, the actual streak (of 27 games – not breaking the record) would mean more than if they had beaten the record and lost the championship.  If I’m Miami, I’m taking a championship season with a great, albeit not a record, winning streak thrown in, over a loss in the finals but a record-breaking streak.[3]

So that’s it NBA fans – definitive proof that the streak didn’t matter.  And remember, if you disagree with me, well, you probably have a good argument.

 

1. After “the decision” every team in the league instantly got on the phone with their star player and asked them if any of their “friends” would want to start a super team.  Remember the supposed Melo-CP3-Amare Knicks? Or the Kobe-CP3-Bynum Lakers? Or the Deron Williams-Joe Johnson-Dwight Howard Nets?  And not only did teams rethink how to build their teams, but the new collective bargaining agreement focused exclusively on making super-teams impossible in the near future, compiling the luxury tax to levels even the cash-soaked Lakers couldn’t really afford.  So although the streak didn’t mean much, the “Heatles” certainly did.

2. Championships aren’t everything in sports.  Especially in team sports, great players can’t always control the amount of championships they win.  If Lebron had stayed in Cleveland there is no way he would have gotten past the Thunder last year.  Would Durant have been better than Lebron if he had won a ring and Lebron hadn’t? No.  He just has the good-fortune of a fantastic front office that doesn’t miss in the draft.  Rings are important but they’re not everything.  Now please return to the body text and watch me contradict myself.

3. I know this paragraph is a meaningless hypothetical quagmire, but I thought it was interesting.

Why it did matter

Of course the Heat streak mattered! They won 27 games in a row. That’s like three away from a million. The Heat won more games in row than ten other teams have THIS SEASON1. Here are three reasons why you should think this:

1.        The Heat now sees the level of dominance they are capable of.

Yes, I know they won the championship last year and I’m sure they are well aware of how good they are buuuuuuuut no one thinks they are 27-wins-in-a-row good until they do it2. When Chris Bosh went down for a few games in last year’s playoffs the Heat tinkered with playing Lebron at the four and won a championship, but not until now had they perfected this style. By playing Lebron at power forward, pulling Chris Bosh (and his long defender) a couple steps farther away from the hoop, having Dwayne Wade be a nightmare off the dribble, and stationing a couple elite 3-point shooters around the outside they have drawn up a game plan that makes them one of the most dominant teams in NBA history. On a team full of veterans everyone knows their role and, more importantly, fully accepts it.

Defensively, Lebron, Wade, and Battier give them a versatility with defensive matchups that no other team can match. It all starts with, again, Lebron James. He plays above average defense against any position and can shut down any 2, 3, or 4 in the league. Battier, although rather unathletic, has made a career out of being the most cerebral3 and efficient defender in the league. Not only that, he can spend all of his energy guarding the other team’s best player which keeps Lebron fresh. Between those two and the playmaking abilities of Dwayne Wade, any wing player is in for a long night. Behind them they still have Bosh (great length and athleticism) and Haslem and Birdman (both energetic, blue collar guys who you can count on for quality minutes every night). It’s a gauntlet.

2.        They got weeks of playoff caliber basketball during the regular season.

When you’re building a historic win streak and ESPN spends 18 hours a day talking about it, it becomes very difficult to sneak up on opponents. Everyone wants to be the one to end it. Marreese Speights summed it up nicely: “If you can’t get excited about playing Miami, then you’re not a basketball player. Everyone around the league is watching you because they’re all keeping an eye on them. [Those] are the games you love to play.” I mean, even Corey Maggette expressed excitement about playing the Heat recently, tweeting: “Tonight I’m playing for more than just a paycheck. I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m still getting paid, but tonight it’s different4.” That’s exciting.

So for the past few weeks, as the streak got into double digits and started to gain national momentum, the Heat have been playing against the hardest efforts that regular season NBA teams can muster up. And it ended at the perfect time. They tricked teams into playing as hard as they could for a few weeks, got in playoff ready mode, then ended it with just enough time to rest their stars and get ready for the playoffs.

It’s not cool to “raise the roof” anymore. Instead just push the floor down farther

3.        Lebron is able to shed the “not a closer” speculation once and for all.

This hasn’t been brought up too much since he got his ring but for any doubter that may have still existed there is no doubt that the James and the Heat have the ability to overcome any late deficit. They made five double digit comebacks during the streak including three games in a row (for wins #23-25) that included taking the lead with 10.5 seconds left against Boston after trailing for seemingly the entire game (Lebron: 37, 7, and 12), a 27 point comeback against the Cavs on the road (Lebron: 14, 7, and 3 in the fourth quarter alone, triple double overall), and a ten-point 3rd quarter comeback against the Pistons (Heat allowed 35 in the second half). It was like they got bored of blowing teams out and started playing cat and mouse with other NBA teams. They asked themselves, “Ok, how many can we get behind this game and still win?”. And as they found it, the answer was a lot. And the best part of these comebacks was this. I’m a sucker for comeback dances.

1.       Sacramento (27 wins), Washington (26), Toronto (26), Minnesota (25), New Orleans (25), Detroit (24), Phoenix (23), Cleveland (22), Orlando (18) and Charlotte (17).

2.       Unless you’re Kobe Bryant, in which case you are oblivious to how good your team actually is.

3.       There is an entire chapter in the book The Art of a Beautiful game by Chris Ballard about how Battier might be the smartest, best prepared defender of all time. It completely opened my eyes to how underrated a player he has been over his career. Great read for any NBA fan.

4.       Ok he didn’t actually say this, he was too busy gettin’ his.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s