ATLANTA -- It was a Super Bowl party on the road last season that sparked the Heat’s best winning streak in franchise history. Maybe another day of football is just what this team needs to manufacture some magic.
Because if this road trip has proven anything, inspiration is going to be hard to come by over the next few weeks.
The Heat watched the NFC and AFC Championship games in Atlanta on Sunday, breaking up the long slog of a season that has basically been reduced to two things: games against teams in the Eastern Conference with unimpressive records or broken rosters, and daily questions about the playing statuses of Dwyane Wade and Greg Oden.
For a day, all of that was forgotten. For a day, all that mattered was fellowship off the court and, of course, football.
Sometimes that’s the only spark a team needs to alter the mood of a season.
Last February, the Heat watched the Super Bowl in Toronto, listened to Shane Battier give a theatrically hilarious, yet poignant speech on the team bus, and then won 27 games in a row. The streak was such an important part of the Heat’s season that the team’s ownership inscribed the accomplishment on the championship rings.
Players have called that day in Toronto one of the most memorable of their careers, and Sunday in Atlanta was a similar experience.
Of course, up until now, little has been memorable about this season, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the Heat is 29-11 through the first 40 games of the season. Last season, before the streak, the team was 28-12 at this point, and on the way to 28-13.
On Monday, the Heat plays the grand finale of an unconventional six-game road trip that has dragged on for 11 days. Miami has played five consecutive games against teams with losing records and will end the road trip against the Hawks (20-19), who have the fourth-best record in the East, but are without their best player, forward Al Horford, for the remainder of the season.
The Heat’s overtime victory against the Bobcats on Saturday salvaged the six-game swing, which began with back-to-back losses to the Knicks and Nets, and gave Miami a chance to break even on a road trip that began with three consecutive losses.
“We haven’t lost three in a row in a very long time, so we got to put together a run and head into this All-Star break and this is the way to do it,” said Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who had 10 rebounds against the Bobcats. “You look at the two teams that we’ve beaten, they’re young, they’re energetic, and even though their record doesn’t say so, those are the teams we struggle with, the teams that are .500 and below, so for us to come out here and be professional and get this win says a lot.”
Of the Heat’s 11 losses, nine have been to teams currently with losing records. The Bobcats were in position to become the 10th team on that inglorious list, but a staunch defensive effort by the Heat forced overtime, and the Heat dominated the extra period for a 104-96 victory.
“We were really upset with ourselves and we had to be honest,” Bosh said of the Heat’s first-half effort against the Bobcats. “Charlotte is a good team, but 60 points in a half is too much. I don’t care if you’re playing the best offensive team in the league, that’s too much.
“They just seemed to be scoring at will, and we wanted to change that. We didn’t do a very good job of defending in the first half, but we picked it up in the second and got the win.”
Bosh was a major reason for the victory. He was 10 of 16 from the field and 3 of 6 from three-point range for 25 points, and his three-pointer with 5:23 left in regulation tied the score at 86-86. Bosh has scored at least 25 points in his past three games. It’s his most productive run of the season.
“I’m just trying to be aggressive,” Bosh said. “I’m in a pretty good rhythm right now. I understand that LeBron [James] is going to get the majority of the attention, but he’s so unselfish. He makes so many plays for us down the stretch, whether it’s passing or scoring he got good looks for us every time.”
James reciprocated the compliment after the victory against Charlotte, calling Bosh “the quiet assassin.”
“He’ll go out there and get you 20-plus points, a couple blocks and rebounds,” James said. “His pick-and-roll defense was great [Saturday night]. His ability to shoot the ball at that position makes him one of the most dangerous guys in the league.”
Bosh’s effort in recent games, plus the return of Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier to the Heat’s starting lineup, finally gives the Heat some stability after a month filled with injuries and upset losses. With the possible return of Chris Andersen to the lineup against Atlanta, the defending back-to-back champs might be poised for another midseason run.