The Miami Heat stands tantalizingly close to history now, seven wins from breaking a record many viewed as unbreakable, seven wins from carving a legacy like no team before it.
A victory in Chicago against the Bulls on Wednesday night would push the Heat’s winning streak to 28, just five short of equaling the NBA’s record of 33 wins in a row, achieved by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
How remarkable is the Heat’s uninterrupted 53-day run of excellence? Consider:
• Ten teams haven’t won as many games all season as the Heat has won consecutively.
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• The last time the Heat lost, Feb. 1 in Indiana, the Super Bowl hadn’t been played yet, and Pope Benedict XVI hadn’t resigned.
• Aside from the Lakers, no team in any of the four major pro sports has ever won as many games in a row as the Heat. Next closest: Baseball’s New York Giants, who won 26 consecutive games in 1916.
“It’s awesome,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “It’s cool. You have to be thankful while you have it.”
As the players continue their methodical march toward 33, they keep insisting the record doesn’t motivate them, though none are hooked to lie detectors when they say it.
“It’s not a goal and has never been a goal of mine,” LeBron James said. “Our historic run is about winning championships.”
Said Shane Battier: “There’s no talk of numbers in this locker room. It doesn’t matter. The only thing we’re concerned about is maximizing this team.”
Former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy doesn’t buy it.
“As much as they downplay it, it’s something they would love to do,” Van Gundy said on 790 The Ticket.
Van Gundy looks at it this way: He says the Heat is not going to eclipse the Celtics “for number of championships,” considering Boston won 10 in an 11-year span in the late 1950s and ’60s. Catching the Bulls — six in nine years in the ’90s — also seems daunting.
So Van Gundy asks: “What’s out there to put your mark on being one of the best of all time? This would do it.”
Several Heat players say they cannot look at it that way.
“If we can make history, great,” Rashard Lewis said. “But it won’t be heartbreaking if we lose a game. The big thing is to win a championship.”
There is a distinction to be drawn here. Players may not be consumed by the streak, or even think about it much, but they appreciate the gravity of what they’re achieving.
“I’m not going to sit here and downplay it and act like I don’t know what the record is,” James said.
Bosh concedes achieving the record “would be cool. It would be something to talk about. But they won’t be throwing confetti for that. You get a record that will probably be broken one day.”
Though coach Erik Spoelstra joked that the topic isn’t “taboo,” he hasn’t mentioned it to his players, and Lewis insists they haven’t discussed it among themselves, either.
So when do players start talking about it internally? “Maybe at 31, 32,” Mario Chalmers said.
But Heat players can’t escape the topic, whether they’re watching ESPN or talking to friends and family.
“My dad is a prime example,” Bosh said. “He’ll come around with a random fact. He’s like, ‘Did you know the Los Angeles Lakers did this and that when they won this many in a row?’ And once he knows, everybody knows.”
What amuses Wade is hearing TV pundits speculating which opponent will end the Heat’s streak.
“I watch TV. I read Twitter,” Wade said. “It’s funny to see some of the people say we’re going to do this, and people who say, ‘Nah, this is the game we’re going to lose.’
“It’s a shot in the dark. We don’t know. No one does. It’s cool. It’s entertainment.”
But the Heat has made it difficult for itself in the past week. Four times in the past five games, the Heat has overcome double-digit deficits to win. Fourteen times in this streak, the Heat has been tied or behind at halftime.
James, Wade and Bosh say friends or even strangers on Twitter have voiced displeasure about the close calls.
“I hear that at the house from friends,” Bosh said. “They say, ‘You’re giving me a heart attack. I don’t have any more fingernails.’ That’s good. It lets you know you’re alive.
“Welcome to our world. How do you think we feel during the playoffs when you’re having fun, eating popcorn and cheering?”
James puts it this way: “We would love to have better starts, but we’re a team that wears teams down over 48 minutes.”
So what team could end the Heat’s streak? NBA legend Jerry West, a member of the Lakers team that owns the record, said the Heat (56-14) should be concerned about Sunday’s game in San Antonio (53-17), which follows Wednesday’s game against a 38-31 Chicago team playing without injured star guard Derrick Rose, and a Friday game against New Orleans (25-46).
If the Heat can win the next three, the record looks conquerable. Win No. 31 could come at home April 2 against the Knicks, and No. 32 on the road April 5 against Charlotte, which has the NBA’s worst record.
Miami then could tie the record at home April 6 against Philadelphia, then break it against visiting Milwaukee on April 9.
Publicly, at least, the Heat doesn’t view overconfidence as a concern. But how do players who haven’t lost in nearly eight weeks avoid believing they’re untouchable?
“We’re not untouchable,” James said. “We don’t play like that. We don’t talk like that. It’s not the nature of our team. We thought it was going to be easy the first year and look what happened.”
Bosh says players will not consider themselves invulnerable because, “for one, we have a coaching staff that will tell us that we’re not. We have guys that stay on each other.”
But then Bosh adds this:
“I always expected to win every game. And now we’re actually winning every game.”