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Stretching the Field: The Heat can be stopped, but when?
By Shawn Clarke, NBA Contributing Editor
(Sports Network) - When discussing the Miami Heat nowadays, the chorus of P Diddy's "Bad Boy for Life" comes to mind.
"We ain't/go-in nowhere/we ain't/going nowhere" "We can't be stopped now/cause it's Bad Boy for life"
The Heat are playing like gangbusters with 20 straight wins under their championship belt and there doesn't appear to be an end in sight.
There are two catalysts for Miami's rampage the past month and a half: First, ball movement has been exceptional; and, second, and most importantly, arduous conditioning from the offseason is coming into play with the postseason looming.
Following Wednesday's not-so-easy 98-94 victory on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers in the back end of consecutive games, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was pleased with how his team responded in the face of adversity. Spoelstra complimented a Sixers group for their speed, energy and youth.
In the end, it came down to being focused and fundamentally sound.
"Regardless of who you're playing or what's laid out in front of you, you focus on the task at hand, and the guys took that to heart," Spoelstra said. "I'm sure, I didn't ask, but I'm sure the guys felt a little bit of fatigue going through there, but everybody has to deal with it."
Spoelstra made no excuses for his team coming off back-to-back performances versus Atlanta, then having to travel to Philadelphia. The NBA schedule makers show no pity for any team, including the elite ones.
Miami, which has clinched a playoff berth, has five more back-to-back affairs until the regular season comes to a close. That's when teams can get a shot in on the Heat, who know full well that the opposition will be gunning for them, especially if that ludicrous streak is still intact. Lower-tier teams like the 76ers proved that Wednesday night. Who doesn't want to be David when Goliath is almost down on his knees?
Spoelstra had this to say about the conditioning of his team: "They take their instruments, which is their bodies, very seriously. And they understand the most important thing to our success is their health and also the conditioning. And that started all the way back in training camp."
A "grueling" camp as Spoelstra described it helped the Heat build speed, pace and space, with a "great deal of running" to allow the players' bodies to get stronger as the droning season goes on. Spoelstra said athleticism is critical and very necessary for the way Miami plays, an up-tempo style that tries to run the opposition off the floor.
However, during this deluge of victories, it hasn't all been peaches and cream. The Sixers played them tough. Atlanta wouldn't back down the day before. Even Orlando pulled up two points short of triumph and Sacramento took Miami into double overtime. Heck, Charlotte of all teams gave Miami a run for its money, but in the Heat's defense they were playing the second game of a back-to-back.
Superstar LeBron James was asked about blowing double-digit leads when it appeared the game was in hand and what triggers the team in those moments.
"Don't panic. We just don't panic. Our main goal is to win a game, not to blow a team out," James said. "Whatever the case may be, we just want to play the game. Wherever the game takes us in those 48 minutes, we're ready for it. When we have a lead and we lose it, and the other team takes the lead, either if we're at home or on the road, we don't panic. We're a veteran ballclub, and we just go down and try to execute offensively, and try to get a stop."
In hindsight, the Heat won't make every shot or come up with a stop every time down the floor. That's where teams can make their move. When and if that happens remains to be seen. Spoelstra said he hates it when the Heat blow a significant lead and the game turns into a grudge match much like Wednesday's see-saw battle at the end in Philadelphia.
"When it does come to that, all these experiences help you," Spoelstra said. "We've been in a lot of late-game situations where we've had to find different ways to win and those experiences will be needed in the postseason."
Speculation as to whether the Heat can close out the regular season without a loss is beginning to surface. A little bit of luck has aided the Heat, too, during the longest winning streak by a defending champion. The East's top seed is two wins away from matching Houston's 22-game run set during the 2007-08 campaign, while the 33 consecutive victories by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1971-72 is tops.
Miami, which is 13-0 since the All-Star break, will probably pass the Rockets' streak with Milwaukee, Toronto and Boston next on the docket. But the chances of overthrowing L.A.'s incredible feat are slim. The San Antonio Spurs are on the docket March 31 and by that time the Heat could be riding a 29-game run.
Perhaps James put it best when he spoke about the streak and if it weighs on the players' minds: "We just think about winning our next game."
That could come Friday on the road against a Bucks team that will surely give Miami all it can handle.
03/14 14:15:51 ET