MILWAUKEE -- It wasn’t during Wednesday night’s victory in Philadelphia. It didn’t happen in that double-overtime thriller against Sacramento.
When exactly was the winning streak in most jeopardy? At what point did it all almost come to a crashing halt? The Heat juggernaut wavered strongest in those few moments when LeBron James went down hard on his knee against the New York Knicks.
The Heat has won games in many different ways throughout its 20-game streak, but the one constant has been health. Throughout the season — and especially during this current run of historic greatness — the Heat’s players have managed to avoid serious injury.
The entire team is currently healthy. Perhaps more than anything, good fortune — good luck — has been the biggest factor in the Heat not losing since Feb. 1. Miami (49-14) can become one of only three teams in NBA history to win at least 21 games in a row with victory against Milwaukee (32-31) on Friday night at BMO Harris Bradley Center.
“We take really good care of ourselves compared to other teams I’ve been on, but health is also luck and we’ve been lucky from that standpoint,” said Heat forward Shane Battier, who is one of the few players on the Heat’s roster to miss games this season because of injury.
How devastating can injuries be to a team? Just look at the Lakers.
Los Angeles’ season started badly due in large part to point guard Steve Nash missing games with a left leg injury. Losses piled up as center Dwight Howard struggled with a bad back and bum shoulder. On Wednesday, Kobe Bryant sprained his ankle so severely that he might be out for more than a month.
Something that seemed unfathomable last summer — the Lakers missing the playoffs — is now a distinct possibility.
Is the Heat so good that it could withstand such a series of unfortunate events? Don’t kid yourself. In the NBA, a team is only as good as its health.
When James twisted his leg against the Knicks, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra held his breath and teammates crowded around Miami’s fallen superstar. Much more than the winning streak seemed in peril.
James writhed in pain and held his knee. Deep down, Dwyane Wade feared the worst. It was a nasty tumble. Fear warped time at Madison Square Garden.
The seconds stretched out like minutes while James bended and flexed his leg. Then, suddenly, the nightmare was over. James arose, shook the poison of doubt out of his leg and kept right on playing.
Amazingly, he logged more than 40 minutes that Sunday.
With the Heat having already all but wrapped up the No.1 seed in the Eastern Conference, maybe James should take it easy. You know, play on the perimeter and avoid those gut-wrenching scenarios everyone fears when he crashes to the basket. Not his thing, says James.
“I’m a football player,” James said after Wednesday’s 98-94 victory against the 76ers.
Like any football player, James trains his body for a nightly pounding. The Heat’s players credit their training staff for preserving their bodies. Daily massages and off-day treatments are the norm. James, Ray Allen and others on the team sometimes stretch their bodies three times a day to remain limber.
Udonis Haslem, who has not suffered a major setback since his foot injury in 2011, says daily preparation and maintenance are the marks of a veteran team.
“On our days off, guys do a great job of getting in and getting treatment and guys make sure they stay consistent,” Haslem said. “We really put our staff to good use.”
Spoelstra’s demanding schemes — a helping defense that requires maximum energy and a high-paced offense — couldn’t happen if the Heat’s players didn’t condition on their off days. Sure, the Heat didn’t practice Thursday in Milwaukee, but that doesn’t mean the players were completely idle.
“They take their instruments, which is their bodies, very seriously, and they understand that the most important thing to our success is their health, but also the conditioning,” Spoelstra said. “That started all the way back in training camp where we had a grueling October in terms of trying to build up the speed and pace and space.
“We did a great deal of running, and since then guys have been able to keep that up but also take care of their bodies with treatment and with strength training, which allows you to get stronger as the season goes on.”