The Miami Heat has won three championships in the past 11 years, rolled off 27 wins in a row during the LeBron James era, and made four consecutive NBA Finals from 2011 through 2014.
But the Heat arguably hasn’t accomplished anything more astonishing than this ongoing 11-game winning streak on the heels of one of the worst first halves of a season in franchise history.
The Heat produced a record of 11-30 in the first 41 games of the 82-game NBA season. Miami hasn’t lost in the 22 days since.
“Even when it looked like it was getting dark, we all believed,” guard Wayne Ellington said. “We all bought in. We want to prove all these people that were doubting us wrong. We want to show them we can win.”
The Heat (22-30) isn’t merely making national headlines during this improbable streak. It’s also making history.
Already, the Heat has set an NBA record for longest winning streak by a team that was as many as 19 games under .500 (nine).
If Miami wins at Milwaukee on Wednesday (8 p.m., Fox Sports Sun), it will break a tie with the Phoenix Suns for the longest winning streak in NBA history by any team with a losing record.
The Heat, by winning Wednesday, also would tie the longest winning streak by an NBA team this season, achieved by the Golden State Warriors much earlier this season.
But this achievement, not yet attained, would be the most significant:
If Miami can make the playoffs, it would be the first NBA team since late 1980s expansion to qualify for postseason after standing as many as 19 games below .500.
Miami entered Tuesday just two games behind No. 8 Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
“The most important thing for us,” guard Goran Dragic said, “is to make the playoffs. We are going to battle for that every day, try to get that spot. When you dig a hole and come out of that hole, it means something.”
The 1985-86 Chicago Bulls made the playoffs with a 30-52 record, and the 1987-88 Spurs made it with a 31-51 mark.
But since the NBA expanded to Miami, Minnesota, Orlando and Charlotte in the late 1980s, no team has climbed from so far below .500 to make the playoffs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“That adds a little something, adds a little extra on the top,” Ellington said. “It would be a great feeling. We’re hungry. We know how sweet [the playoffs] would be.”
Heat interest appears to be rising during the winning streak. Five of Fox Sports Sun's 10 most watched Heat games this season have come during the streak, and viewership of Heat games has risen 33 percent over the full season average.
Monday's victory drew a 4.1 rating (equal to 4.1 percent of homes in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market) and was the most watched English language program in South Florida from 8 to 10:30 p.m., beating The Bachelor on ABC (3.7) and Apprentice on NBC (1.6).
Meanwhile, ticket prices on the secondary market “have definitely gone up” during the winning streak, according to Michael Lipman, CEO of Tickets of America and White Glove International. “It's a monster.”
Lipman said the prices of courtside seats, on the secondary market, have risen from the $1,500/$2,500 range to $3,000. For seats 10 rows up, prices have risen from about $250 to between $400 and $500. And upper level tickets have soared from $25 to $30 range to $75, Lipman said.
So how has the Heat done it? Some keys to the turnaround:
▪ A steamrolling offense. Miami has averaged 109.7 points during this winning streak, compared with 98.3 during the first 41 games. The Heat has scored 116, 125 and 115 in its past three games.
“We’re sharing the ball; everyone knows what we’re doing,” Dragic said. “It’s fun. We can do multiple stuff — play slow, play fast. Every night, someone else has a huge game.”
Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau on Monday praised “the way they are playing so unselfishly offensively. They have great ball movement right now, sharing the ball, shooting the threes extremely well.”
The Heat is shooting 43.8 percent from three-point range during this streak, compared with 33.8 during the first 41 games.
▪ Sterling work by Dragic. He’s averaging 20.1 points (10th among NBA point guards) and 6.5 assists (ninth) in what coach Erik Spoelstra calls the best season of his career.
What’s more, he has hit 13 of his last 16 three-point shots and leads all NBA starting point guards in three-point percentage, at 44.8, and in overall field goal percentage at 48.1.
“The rim looks huge,” he said. “I’m more consistent. I had a great summer. This is the best shape I’ve been in my life and hard works pays off.”
▪ Dion Waiters’ emergence. The enigmatic guard, whose career had been marked by wild fluctuations in play and bouts of inefficiency, has been exceptional during this winning streak, averaging 20.6 points and shooting 49.4 percent from the field. But he might miss playing time with an ankle injury sustained in Monday’s win against Minnesota.
▪ Hassan Whiteside’s presence. He leads the NBA in rebounding per game (13.9), ranks fourth in blocks (2.04 per game) and has improved his scoring average to 16.7 per game, which ranks fourth among centers.
In Saturday’s win against Philadelphia, he needed fewer minutes (27) to collect 30 points and 20 rebounds than any player in NBA history.
“His stats haven’t been the biggest they’ve been with us, but his winning plays and his impact on winning has been the most consistent,” Spoelstra said. “That part has been great to see.”
Said Thibodeau: “Hassan Whiteside is putting a lot of pressure on [teams] rolling to the rim.”
▪ A formidable bench. Forward James Johnson, enjoying the best season of a nomadic NBA career, and guard Tyler Johnson are combining to average more points than any bench tandem in the league, among all players without a start.
▪ A defense that has limited teams, in the fourth quarter, to an average of 23.5 points (best in the league from a defensive standpoint) and 41.1 percent shooting (second best).
“When you look at the way they’re defending, as an organization that has always been a high priority,” Thibodeau said.
Still, Spoelstra wasn’t pleased that the Heat allowed 113 points in Monday’s win at Minnesota and made clear he expects more from a team whose identity, historically, has been built on stout defense.
“I think it’s important for us to go through that,” Spoelstra said of everything the Heat has experienced this season. “Look, we’ve gone through almost everything else: How to play with a ridiculously bad record. How to play with adversity. How to play through injuries. How to play without making excuses.
“Now we have to be able to play to our identity when you’re dealing with a little bit of success and not let human nature sink in.”
Of the Heat’s 11 wins in this streak, only three have come against teams with winning records, but one of those was against the team with the NBA’s best record (Golden State) and another against a team that entered the game with the third best (Houston).
What this winning streak shows, forward Udonis Haslem said, is “we never gave up. The coaching staff never gave up. It shows these guys came in, regardless of the record, and stayed professional and worked hard every day and really bought in.”
Longest Heat winning streaks
Feb. 3 to March 25, 2013
Dec. 6 to Jan. 1, 2005
Feb. 26 to March 19, 2005
Nov. 29 to Dec. 18, 2010
Jan. 27 to Feb. 20, 1997
Jan. 17, 2017 to present
Feb. 13 to March 1, 1998
Feb. 12 to March 8, 2006
Nov. 12 to Dec. 1, 2013