PHILADELPHIA -- Winning streaks in February don't mean anything when the playoffs arrive. That's what the rest of the NBA needs to remind itself of. Otherwise, the Miami Heat's display over the past few weeks would be awfully demoralizing.
The Heat won their 10th straight Saturday night, smashing a banged-up and already rather demoralized Philadelphia 76ers outfit by a 114-90 margin. Moreover, it was the Heat's fifth straight road win, an area that used to be a legit weakness, and that includes recent victories in potential playoff climes Oklahoma City, Atlanta and Chicago.
Within the past few days, Knicks coach Mike Woodson and star Carmelo Anthony both said they feel they can still can beat the Heat in a playoff series despite the Knicks' recent struggles. The Indiana Pacers, who are surging right now, have hinted they feel the same because those two teams are a combined 4-0 so far against the Heat.
Holding a huge lead for the top record in the East, plus passing the Thunder for the second-best record in the league, the Heat have an answer.
"People have been saying they can [beat us in a series] for a while, but it's only happened once," Chris Bosh said, referring to the 2011 Finals, when the Mavericks defeated Miami. "We've shown that we're a good team and when it's go time, when it's time to put it all on the line, we feel we're the best team out there. When we're playing at our best, we're the best team in the league."
All that will eventually be settled, but it's no wonder the Heat are feeling pretty good about themselves at the moment. After a bit of a slow start over which they eased their way into the season while taking some bad losses, the Heat have kicked up their game right on schedule.
Sixers coach Doug Collins, who has seen his team's season wrecked by injuries, probably won't see the postseason. Striving for the No. 8 seed, which is Philly's fading hope, might only assure a first-round meeting with Miami.
"That team is big-time good," Collins said. "I don't see any weaknesses. The only thing I could see is if you had two bigs, you could try to pound them a little bit. I don't know of any team that has that [in the East].
"When they go to LeBron [James] as a power forward, it is impossible to guard. They have a big rolling, setting screens and they have 3-point shooters spreading the floor. They've got Dwyane [Wade] isolated in the post I looked at our coaches and I said, 'What do you take away from them?'"
The Heat are neck-and-neck with the Thunder for the top offense in the league -- they shot 58 percent Saturday with 27 assists and just seven turnovers in another dazzling display of efficiency -- and now have moved into the top 10 in defense as well.
The Heat gave up an average of just 83 points on their three-game road trip after the All-Star break, another area they have improved in steadily throughout the season. For the record, they assured all that they would when they were repeatedly questioned about their early-season malaise that looked like a textbook case of championship hangover.
"People are recognizing what we're doing," said LeBron James, who put together a triple-double in just 31 minutes on Saturday. "We don't try to send messages to the rest of the league; we try to send a message to ourselves."
Nobody has personified this more than Dwyane Wade. Taking it slowly in the first few months while recovering from offseason knee surgery, Wade was a popular target for the question of whether age and knee injuries had diminished his skill level.
Wade isn't the same player he was in 2006, which he will admit. But he's proving he still possesses superstar talent. Overshadowed a bit by the hot streak James has been on, Wade has had a tremendous month, and it's not a coincidence the Heat have started racking up easy wins in the same time span. Against the Sixers, he had his third 30-point game in the past two weeks, putting up 33 points on 14-of-18 shooting in one of his most dominant games of the season.
"We roll our eyes when people are criticizing him," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
"He's having a career year efficiency-wise, and yet people criticize that because he wanted to sacrifice and be part of a team like this that has a chance to do something special. His game has evolved; it's changed. He's scoring in different ways than he did for seven years."
Wade is now shooting 51 percent for the season, which would be a career high. It has been noted often that Wade is averaging just 21 points a game, the lowest since his rookie season. But he's also averaging just 15 shots a game, three fewer than his career average.
"We've gotten to the point where the stats don't matter," Wade said.
Well, almost. After numerous near misses at triple-doubles this season, James admitted he wanted it badly Saturday night. One rebound shy after three quarters, he stayed in to start the fourth even though it was a blowout. Then, he nearly bowled over two teammates trying to collect the needed rebound before getting it and immediately checking out of the game.
Priorities and pressure will be different when the calendar flips to May and perhaps June, but it was telling that chasing impressive stat thresholds now has become the only drama at most Heat games.
"I was going to be out there until I got that [triple-double]. I wasn't going to let this one slip away," James said. "I've had way too many nine-rebound, nine-assist games. I had a whole quarter to get one rebound."