Take heart, Heat. Look out, NBA.
When the Los Angeles Lakers’ 33-game winning streak ended, they hit a bit of a lull before rolling through the playoffs and winning the NBA title.
That scenario likely would suit Miami just fine since the defending champions have said all along they were focused on repeating more than breaking a record.
Dwyane Wade even sounded relieved Miami’s run stopped at 27, courtesy of the Chicago Bulls.
"Now that it’s over, I’m glad it’s over," he said after the 101-97 loss Wednesday night, his team’s first defeat in nearly two months.
"It really didn’t matter to us," Wade said. "If you get it, it’s awesome. If you don’t, we still won 27 games in a row. That’s pretty awesome. So we really weren’t like, ‘We’ve got to get that record.’ Not at all."
So, with their name firmly attached to the second-longest streak in NBA history, the Heat did what they would have done if it had still been going strong. They took Thursday off in New Orleans, where they’ll face the Hornets on Friday night.
While the circus atmosphere around the team slows down — until the playoffs, anyway — the Heat can turn to the business of wrapping up the final 11 games of the regular season without what some may call a "distraction." Clinching the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed is a foregone conclusion, and the Heat leads San Antonio by two games in the race for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Still, Lakers star Kobe Bryant urged LeBron James and his teammates to savor the moment.
"I think just as a student of the game, as a fan of the game, you appreciate those kind of streaks and you realize how difficult it is to put together that big of a streak," he said. "Obviously, the Lakers winning 33 in a row was phenomenal, but the Heat’s one was just as impressive."
After their streak ended, those ‘71-72 Lakers lost four of their next six games. But they went 15-2 to close the regular season, then lost only three of 15 playoff games on the way to the title.
That’s the only measure of success for the Heat.
"At the end of the day, a win is a win in our league," said James, the reigning MVP who averaged exactly 27 points per game during the 27-game streak. "We’ve gotten better throughout the season. Each and every month we’ve improved. We’ve started from behind some games, but for the most part we’ve played some great basketball."
They blew out some teams and rallied in the final minutes to beat others, erasing double-digit deficits and pulling off 11 fourth-quarter comebacks in their 7½-week run of dominance.
Entering Thursday, 10 NBA teams hadn’t won 27 games all season.
"Really proud of the grind of the last few weeks from my guys," Miami forward Shane Battier wrote on Twitter early Thursday. "The focus and effort (and luck) was phenomenal."
They were must-see television, with ESPN and NBA TV scrambling to pick up Heat games as the streak rolled along. ESPN said the overnight rating for Heat-Bulls was the fifth-best of any regular-season game ever shown on the network.
For those who still need streaks to follow, there are plenty of options.
Women’s basketball is full of them right now, with Baylor (32), Notre Dame (28) and Delaware (27) all streaking into NCAA regional games this weekend. In men’s college basketball, Louisville takes a 12-game winning streak into its Midwest Regional semifinal against Oregon on Friday night. And in the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins were trying for a 14th straight win against Winnipeg on Thursday night.
To put it in perspective, Heat’s streak not only is the second-longest in NBA history, but the second-longest among any of the four major professional sports.
The longest current NBA streak now belongs to the New York Knicks — six games.
On Friday, the Heat begin anew.
Miami would need to win every game left on its schedule and sweep all four playoff series to end the year with another 27-game winning streak. Meantime, Wade offered this:
"Now that it’s over, let’s look back on it as something that was great."
AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.