The Miami Heat extended their winning streak to 16 games with a 97-96 win over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, March 6, a victory that ended up being much more difficult to get than anyone would have thought early in the second half.
Dwyane Wade knocked down a basket just 48 seconds into the third period and Miami, on the strength of five straight points to start the quarter, extended its lead over the hapless Magic to 20 points at 60-40.
As it turns out, perhaps Orlando wasn’t so hapless after all.
The Magic outscored the Heat 34-17 over the remainder of the period and trailed by just three points heading into the fourth quarter, 77-74.
When Orlando’s Jameer Nelson completed a three-point play with 9:22 left in regulation, the Magic had their first lead of the second half at 82-81. Orlando’s lead was still 96-93 entering the final minute of play after LeBron James had missed a pair of 3-pointers. Wade and Ray Allen followed with misses and with 38 seconds to go, Miami was inbounding the ball still trailing by three points.
After a pair of Chris Bosh free throws—he was fouled by Nikola Vucevic during the inbounds play—Wade blocked a short jumper by DeQuan Jones and Al Harrington clanked a potential dagger from 3-poin t range with 13 seconds left to give Miami a chance.
James delivered. There would be no more attempts from long range; instead, James blew past the defense to lay the ball in with 3.2 seconds left and, like magic, Miami had escaped Orlando’s rally.
Such is the nature of long winning streaks. If nothing else, long strings of consecutive wins prove the theory that sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good.
The Heat have certainly been good during their current run. Their streak includes wins over some of the NBA’s elite, such as a home-court win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Feb. 5, at the Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 14, a blowout of the Bulls in Chicago on Feb. 21 and a Sunday, March 3 win at Madison Square Garden over the New York Knicks.
But the streak has also had some close calls against some surprising opponents. Besides the great escape against the 17-45 Magic on Wednesday, Miami got taken to two overtimes at home by the Sacramento Kings (currently 21-42) on Feb. 26, eked out a three-point victory over the Portland Trail Blazers (28-32) at American Airlines Arena on Feb. 12 and on Feb. 4 managed to hold off the moribund Charlotte Bobcats (a league-worst 13-48 as of this writing) 99-94.
The streak is the second-longest in the NBA this season and the Heat can match the 17-game run by the Clippers from Nov. 28 through Dec. 30 when the Heat host the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday, March 8.
Before the streak began, following a thorough 102-89 beating at the hands of the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 1, the defending champs were in a dogfight atop the Eastern Conference.
Indeed, when the Heat awakened in Toronto on the morning of Feb. 3 before their game at the Raptors (a 100-85 win that began the streak), the Eastern Conference standings looked like this:
|New York Knicks||30-15||.667||–|
After Miami’s win over the Magic, those standings look quite a bit different:
|New York Knicks||37-21||.638||7.5||7-6|
The Heat have opened up a comfortable lead over everyone else in the conference, with only the Knicks having even an outside shot at preventing Miami from gaining the top seed. New York has 24 games remaining (11 at home and 13 on the road), while the Heat’s remaining 23 games include 11 games at home and 12 on the road.
Again, it’s an outside shot at best—New York would probably have to go on a 19-5 or 20-4 tear while the Heat played at or worse than .500 the rest of the way.
During the streak, the Heat have played well. Miami is shooting 51.1 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from 3-point range while scoring 106.4 points per game, compared to 49.5 percent, 38.7 percent and 103.5 overall this year.
Meanwhile, Miami’s opponents are shooting just 45.1 percent overall and 33.2 percent from deep while averaging only 94.9 points per game.
Most impressively, however, is that the Heat are actually outrebounding their opposition during the winning streak.
For the season, Miami averaged being beaten on the glass by a margin of 40.1-38.7 per game. However, over the last 16 games, Miami has 601 rebounds to just 591 for their opponents.
If the Miami Heat can go into the playoffs with James, Wade and Bosh firing on all cylinders and while at least holding their own on the glass, that will make them a very tough out indeed.