1. Streak History, Heat Focus On Repeat Feat
CHICAGO -- As Dwyane Wade finished dressing after Wednesday's loss to the Chicago Bulls that ended the Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak, he didn't need to search far for the sentiment that best summed up his team's thoughts.
"Nope, 27-1 in our last 28 ain't bad," Wade said. "Now that it's over, I'm glad that it's over. See you all in the playoffs."
The Heat's pursuit of history fell six victories short of matching the 33-game winning streak by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. While it would seem disingenuous for Heat players and coaches to suggest Wednesday's loss provided the team a slight sense of relief, many believed there was somewhat of a silver lining to the setback.
Miami can rest in peace as the focus now shifts to shoring up some recent shortcomings, granting its stars some much-needed time off and preparing to defend last season's championship when the playoffs start in less than a month.
Other than LeBron James voicing his frustrations with what he felt were some excessively hard fouls by the Bulls, the Heat's locker room wasn't filled with disappointment. Players weren't distraught after their first loss in more than 50 days. In fact, the vibe was exactly the opposite.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra gathered the team into a huddle and mentioned the streak in front of the group for the first time. Now that it's over, it is OK for them to openly embrace the fact that they were part of the second-longest winning streak in the history of major professional sports.
"I had everyone come in and put a hand on each other," Spoelstra said. "It was the first time that I had mentioned the streak. It was a heck of an experience to share in the moment with each other. However, it has never been about the streak. We have a bigger goal in mind."
Losing not only ended the Heat's historic streak, it also brought closure to another senseless debate. Not only did Wade, James and Chris Bosh find themselves daily having to stack themselves and the contemporary challenges of the league against the record-setting Lakers team, they also arrived in Chicago facing comparisons with the 1995-96 Bulls, who finished an NBA-best 72-10.
The Heat didn't want to lose Wednesday.
No team ever does.
But they will enjoy the residual aspect of this loss, which means a slight break from the national narrative. To put their remarkable run in perspective, consider this: The Heat's streak has been the biggest story in sports, filling the sports calendar gap from the day of the Super Bowl to the eve of the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16.
Even the Bulls spent Tuesday praising Miami's ride before they got to the business of dismantling it Wednesday.
"Obviously, they are a great team," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said after the 101-97 win that clinched Chicago's fourth straight playoff appearance. "The challenge is not to get caught up in the hoopla. I think it hyped the media up. We need to understand what goes into winning. Stay focused, and have an edge. If you get lost in all the other stuff, then you are not going to be ready."
Meanwhile, the Heat must now get ready for the rare experience of rebounding from their first loss since a Feb. 1 setback in Indiana. They'll finish out a four-game trip Friday against New Orleans and Sunday at San Antonio.
Then they return home Tuesday to face the Knicks, who now boast the longest active winning streak at six games.
After wrapping up his postgame media session Wednesday, James joked that he looked forward to seeing the throng of reporters go back to their normal assignments. They could leave the Heat alone for awhile.
"We haven't really had a moment to really go over it and know what we just did," James said of the streak. "We're just very fortunate and very blessed to be a part of a streak like that. It's one of the best that this league has ever seen. We never really talked about it. We were just playing each and every game to win. And it resulted in 27 in a row."
Now, it's time to hit the reset button.
"It was an unbelievable streak we were on," Wade said of chasing the Lakers' mark. "But in here, it didn't feel like we were on this amazing streak. It felt like we were playing really good basketball. If you get it, it's awesome. If you don't, well, we still won 27 in a row, and it's awesome."
The Heat left Chicago with a loss, but hardly defeated.
The defending champs will soon regroup for their next run.
It's no longer about the streak.
Instead, it's all about the repeat.
"We may lose a game," Bosh said. "But we won't lose sight of our ultimate goal. That's still out there for us."
2. Around the Association
MVP: Jimmy Butler wasn't the Bulls' leading scorer, but he spent all night flitting through empty space in the Heat defense and playing calm, confident basketball at both ends. He was the glue holding the win together.
LVP: Pressured by Chicago's aggressive rotations, Miami's supporting cast struggled to find good shots in the flow of the offense. Other than LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Heat scored 26 points, shooting 11-of-30.
X factor: Kirk Hinrich brought big play after big play -- swinging the ball on offense, single-handedly challenging a LeBron fast break and ripping the ball away from Bosh for a key steal down the stretch.
MVP: Reggie Evans spearheaded the Nets' total domination of the Blazers in the paint, posting 22 points and 26 rebounds. The Blazers simply had no answers for the rugged forward, and he had a career night to prove it.
LVP: This was a generally dismal night for the Blazers, but Nic Batum's passive 2-for-10 shooting gets the nod here. Batum has often been brilliant this season, and his six assists softened the blow somewhat, but the Blazers' key swingman had a rough outing.
That was ... probably the end of a season. The Blazers have been able to cling to the myth of playoff contention, but as they trailed by more than 20 in the fourth, Terry Stotts emptied his bench for the first time this season. This loss may send the Blazers into next-season mode.
MVP: Tim Duncan. With Tony Parker hounded into a 6-for-16 shooting night, Duncan went to work down low. The Big Fundamental scored 23 points on 9-for-18 shooting, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked 5 shots against the Nuggets' big front line.
LVP: Maybe it's unfair to give Ty Lawson the LVP in his first game back from a heel injury, but I'm doing it anyway. The Nuggets point guard shot 1-of-7 for 2 points and committed 3 fouls in his nearly 20 minutes of action against the Spurs.
X factor: These two teams are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to 3-point shooting, and it showed Wednesday night. The Nuggets missed all 10 of their attempts while the Spurs hit 10 of 15, led by Danny Green's six 3-pointers.
MVP: It took a while for Dwight Howard to get into NBA shape, but he's finally starting to round into form. Howard ended the night with 25 points on only 13 shots, 16 rebounds, 5 steals and 5 blocks. Beastly.
Turning point: The game looked well in hand for the Lakers after a strong start to the second half, going up by as many as 17 points. That didn't last. Minnesota found its second wind and very nearly stole the night.
Defining moment: The biggest play of the night was one that wasn't called. Bryant came from behind and knocked Ricky Rubio off kilter on a last-second attempt at a tying 3. Nothing was called -- despite Rubio's pleas, the Lakers sneaked out with a win.
MVP: J.R. Smith became the first Bocker to have back-to-back 30-point games off the bench since Al Harrington, finishing with an efficient 35 on 10-for-18 shooting by taking the ball to the rim and eschewing head-to-desk-inducing, contested, long jumpers.
Defining moment: After an endless parade of Memphis free throws had whittled a seemingly insurmountable 30-point third-quarter lead to a mere five with 1:15 to go, Jason Kidd rattled home a corner 3 to give New York enough of a margin to ensure the victory.
That was November-ish: In the first half, the Knicks resembled the early-season juggernaut that rolled to an 18-5 start, featuring a hailstorm of 3s, unselfish ball movement and pristine spacing. Alas, their brilliance was sullied by their efforts in the second half, when they were rattled by some questionable calls.
MVP: Chris Paul. Paul completely controlled the game against his former team, scoring 16 points and adding 9 asists, 6 rebounds and 4 steals.
X factor: The Clippers' shooters. Usually the Clippers struggle in the 3-point game, but Wednesday was different. L.A. shot 13-for-29 from 3 while the Hornets sunk only 4 of their 14 attempts.
That was vengeful: Because of the Chris Paul trade, there were so many players going against their former team. Of those guys, Eric Gordon, stepped up most, dropping 24 on the guys he used to call his teammates.
MVP: Jeff Green. The hybrid forward stepped up big in place of the injured Kevin Garnett, scoring nine of his 21 points in the fourth quarter. Green also chipped in with seven rebounds and five assists to help the Celtics put a stop to their five-game losing streak.
Defining moment: Down one with just two seconds remaining, the Celtics had one final shot for the win. The ball was inbounded to Green at the top of the key, and the lanky forward used his speed and length to make a move to the basket, laying the ball in right at the buzzer.
That was a great escape: Boston trailed by 14 points with eight minutes remaining in the game, but managed to close it out with a 21-6 run despite playing without Garnett and Courtney Lee (ankle).
MVP: Roy Hibbert scored 28 points and had 13 rebounds for Indiana, as the Rockets had no answer for the big man. Scored 7 points down the stretch to help the Pacers maintain a comfortable margin. Had two monster blocks on a key possession to help sway the momentum away from Houston.
Defining moment: After allowing a 19-point lead to dwindle all the way down to four in the third quarter, the Pacers responded with a 12-3 run. Led by 5 points apiece from Lance Stephenson and Paul George, the spurt gave Indy enough altitude to get home with a victory.
LVP: James Harden had 22 points and 8 assists, but he was not a positive factor for his team. He missed 18 of his 24 shots, and generally seemed detached and sloppy. If not for some superb bench play from Patrick Beverley and Greg Smith, the Rockets would have been run out of their own building.
MVP: Isaiah Thomas came alive after halftime to lead the Kings in scoring and victory. In the third quarter alone, the Kings' starting point guard made 5 of 6 attempts from 3-point distance en route to 17 points in the period. Thomas finished with a game-high 31 points on 10-of-18 shooting and 7 assists.
LVP: Klay Thompson was not a factor for the Warriors and struggled with his shot. The Warriors' shooting guard went 1-for-13 from the field and made only one of his eight attempts from 3-point distance.
X factor: Three-point shooting was the difference in Oakland. The Warriors and Kings shot a relatively similar number of attempts. However, the Kings were more successful, making 11 of 28 shots from 3-point land while the Warriors finished 5-of-24.
MVP: It was an all-around effort by the Thunder, but the MVP goes to Russell Westbrook. His relentless defense and aggressive offense ensured John Wall's life would be difficult all evening; with Wall minimized, the Thunder rolled.
LVP: The Injury Bug. For the second game in a row, Washington was missing Bradley Beal, Nene, A.J. Price, Martell Webster, and Trevor Ariza to various maladies. Though they played hard, this fatigued and short-handed Wizards squad never stood a chance against a healthy Thunder roster.
That was ... a letdown: After John Wall raised our expectations and exploded for 47 points on Monday night against the Grizzlies, he made 3 of 18 shots (and only one jumper) against the Thunder en route to 18 points.
3. Wednesday's Best
The Bulls nearly ended the Nuggets' long streak last week, but this time they succeeded in streak-busting, downing the Heat 101-97 to end LeBron & Co.'s streak at 27 wins. They did it without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, too.
4. Wednesday's Worst
Klay Thompson, Warriors:
After bagging six 3-pointers against the Lakers on Monday, Thompson made only 1 of 13 shots en route to a 105-98 defeat at the hands of the Kings. Sacramento, which entered the game with an NBA-worst 6-30 road record, won the season series 3-1.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote of the Night
"First of all, Kirk Hinrich in the first quarter basically grabbed me with two hands and brought me to the ground. The last one, Taj Gibson was able to collar me around my shoulder and bring me to the ground. Those are not defensive ... those are not basketball plays."
-- LeBron James, after his team lost to the Chicago Bulls.
8. Jimmy Jam
9. Stat Check
J.R. Smith scored 35 points off the bench in the Knicks' win Wednesday, after he scored 32 points as a substitute Tuesday. And Smith has had two other 30-point games off the bench in March, against the Thunder (36 points) and Trail Blazers (33). Smith is the first player to score more than 30 points off the bench four times in one month since Milwaukee's Ricky Pierce did it four times in November 1990.
10. Dunk Of The Night
Around the Association
MVP: Something has gotten into Spencer Hawes. The oft-maligned big man continued his inexplicable hot streak against the Bucks, scoring 15 to go along with a career-high 17 rebounds. In his past seven games, Hawes is averaging 16 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3 blocks.
LVP: Brandon Jennings entered uncharted territory Wednesday: For the first time in 288 professional basketball games, he failed to score a point. The mercurial guard was 0-for-3 when Jim Boylan pulled him in the third quarter after what looked to be a terse exchange.
That was a game of runs: Philadelphia pounded the paint earlier to jump out to a 45-27 lead, only to watch Monta Ellis and the Bucks roar back to take an 83-76 edge early in the fourth. But on Fan Appreciation Night, Philly closed with a 24-9 spurt for the win.
MVP: Al Jefferson. Big Al threw down a sledgehammer dunk in the first quarter and that set the tone for his whole night. Big buckets and a smooth shooting touch netted Jefferson 25 points in a rather easy win for Utah.
X factor: Gordon Hayward. While Jefferson was causing havoc down low, Hayward was easily slipping away from Phoenix's defense for easy jumpers on his way to 25 points. He smoothly racked up six assists and four rebounds as well.
That was embarrassing. The outcome of this game was never in doubt as the Suns failed to muster any reasonable resistance to Utah. Phoenix's defense was abysmal. The Suns' ballhandling was sloppy. Their effort overall was lethargic.
MVP: Al Horford continued his impressive season, as he scored 26 points and grabbed 12 boards. Most of his damage came in the second half, where he was 8 for 12 from the floor for 20 points.
X factor: Jeff Teague was the trigger of a 16-0 run in the fourth quarter, during which he had an 8-0 run by himself. He finished with 24 points and 13 assists, giving him his ninth 20-point/10-assist game on the season, which is third in the league behind LeBron James and Tony Parker.
That was impressive: The Hawks clinched a playoff spot with the win, giving them their sixth consecutive trip to the postseason. While the Hawks often seem overlooked, this streak of playoff appearances is currently the longest active run in the Eastern Conference.
MVP: You know you're a bad team when you make Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker (34 points apiece) look unstoppable. Henderson and Walker are good players, but the Magic made it too easy for them sometimes.
Defining moment: Orlando was up 39-20 after the first quarter and looked to be in complete control against the Bobcats. But Charlotte clawed its way back into the game, thanks to a 19-4 run in the second quarter, and ultimately got the win.
That was entertaining: Even though the Magic and Bobcats are the two worst teams in the NBA, they at least engaged in an entertaining matchup that was easy on the eyes. Both teams scored plenty of points in a game that went down to the wire.