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All that stood between the Miami Heat and a 16-game winning streak was DeQuan Jones.
Jones, a rookie forward for the Orlando Magic, was given the task to defend LeBron James on the game's final possession.
James' game-winning layup looked easy. The seven minutes that came before it were anything but.
The Heat had missed nine shots in a row before James' game-winner.
At times, it looked like the weight of the streak might be too much for the defending champs. Perhaps all the Harlem shaking and pre-game dunking had finally taken its toll.
But just as we were getting ready to pay our final respects to Miami's streak, Dwyane Wade swooped in for an heroic blocked shot with 20 seconds to go. The rebound kicked out to Al Harrington, who misfired from 24 feet.
That defensive stand led to James' game-clinching bucket on the other end.
Friday, the Heat can extend its winning streak to 17 games, which would tie the Clippers for the longest streak in the NBA this season.
But is it smart?
Part of me wonders if James and the Heat are peaking too early. This win streak won't mean anything if Miami falls short of the championship in three months.
The only thing the streak can do is add pressure. Suddenly a meaningless game against the Sixers in mid-March is being approached with the same intensity of a playoff game.
Surely this "survival mode" approach to each game will catch up to the Heat in the long run, right?
Since 1990, 11 teams have put together a winning streak of at least 16 games. Only two (the 1999-00 Lakers and the 1995-96 Bulls) were crowned NBA champions at the end of the season. A third team (the 1990-91 Lakers) made it to the Finals before losing in five games.
Similarly, the Clippers haven't been able to find their groove since losing their winning streak in early January. Before the calendar turned to 2013, L.A. carried a winning percentage of .806 (25-6). Since then, they've gone just 19-14 for a winning percentage of .576.
That trend would lead you to believe that lengthy winning streaks actually have a negative effect, similar to the "hangover effect" we talk about every year after a team wins the championship.
In reality, the winning streak hangover isn't as big of a deal as you'd might think.
In fact, it doesn't exist.
Let's go back to the Clippers for a minute. During their 17-game reign of dominance, superstar point guard Chris Paul averaged 16.4 ppg and 9.4 apg, closely mirroring his season averages of 16.3 ppg and 9.5 assists per contest.
In 21 appearances since the streak, Paul's performance has been mostly the same. He's scoring at a rate of 16.5 ppg with 9.7 apg.
Paul's teammate Blake Griffin posted averages of 18.6 ppg and 8.7 boards per contest during the streak and, just like Paul, he's experienced no rate of attrition whatsoever. His 19.4 ppg scoring average over his last 32 games is an improvement from what he averaged during the streak. His rebounding numbers have been roughly the same (8.6 rpg post-streak).
The Clippers and Heat aren't the only ones who have been streaking. Houston's 22-game heater during the 2007-08 campaign ranks as the second-longest winning streak in league history.
That season, the Rockets were led by high-scoring swingman Tracy McGrady. Inexplicably, McGrady's scoring average (21.6 ppg for the season) dropped during the team's 22-game stint of perfection (19.3 ppg in 21 contests). Once the streak ended, McGrady bumped that average back up to 20.3 ppg over the final 15 games of the regular season.
Michael Jordan's scoring average fell by about a point after the Bulls' 18- game ride in 1995-96 (31.2 ppg during the streak, 30.3 ppg after) while Kevin Garnett experienced a similar scoring dropoff in 2008-09 (16.4 ppg during Boston's 19-game streak, 15.2 ppg the rest of the season).
Garnett's teammate Paul Pierce actually fared much better after Boston's streak ended. He scored a sparkling 21.8 ppg after the streak compared to just 17.1 ppg during it.
Though the long-term effects of winning so many games in a row appear to be minimal, some players do lose steam as the streak winds down.
Jordan put up 38.8 ppg in the Bulls' first 11 wins before slumping to 22.3 ppg for the rest of the streak. Griffin lost his scoring touch as well, falling from 19.9 ppg to just 14.3 ppg over the streak's final four games.
Jordan and Griffin hit a wall but just as often, players save their best for last. Paul's scoring average spiked to 17.5 ppg during the last four games of L.A.'s streak, similar to the way T-Mac saw his average rise during the tail end of Houston's 22-gamer (22 ppg over the streak's final four games).
Turns out the winning streak hangover is only a myth.
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