By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
I turned on an NBA game Wednesday night for one reason only. I was like the kid that runs to the parking lot after school to see the bully get punched in the face. The Miami Heat was in a titanic struggle with the Chicago Bulls and I wanted to see the last punch.
First let’s give credit where it is due. Miami’s 27-game winning streak is one of the most remarkable feats I have witness in the NBA. The Heat fell six games short of the 33-game winning streak of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
Miami had not lost since Indiana edged them in Indianapolis on Feb. 1. That’s almost two months without losing a game. Seven times they trailed by double figures during the streak, including a 27-point hole to Cleveland. There were 11 times during the streak they rallied in the fourth quarter. You couldn’t count them out Wednesday until the final seconds ticked away and a disgusted LeBron James walked off the court.
Maybe it is a bit of irony that Heat president Pat Riley played for the Lakers team that held the record. Or that Shane Battier once played for a Duke team that won 32 straight. The main reason the Heat won 27 in a row was the best player in the game. James may have also been the reason they lost.
Body language usually does not lie. When James was fouled hard on a fourth quarter drive, the officials stopped play to see if the foul may have been flagrant. They ruled it was not since the defender went for the ball. James stood at the foul line holding his arm and stretching it as if he had been body slammed. This is LeBron James, as long as the arm is still attached to the shoulder I expect him to still dunk with it. Chicago played a very physical game and this was a sign it was working.
The most telling play followed with James playing defense. As Chicago’s Carlos Boozer sprinted toward James to set a pick, you could see James’ eyes lock on him. Then you saw James extend his arm toward Boozer to gain momentum for what he wanted to do next. When the two giants collided, James unloaded on Boozer as hard as he could. It looked like two big horn sheep butting heads. James was called, correctly, for a flagrant foul. You could see the intent in his eyes seconds before impact.
The extra points this gave Chicago may not have meant as much as what the play said. James had lost his composure with the pressure of a winning streak was taking its toll.
James made some key plays in the closing minutes that gave his team hope. He had also lost his composure long enough to hurt his team. Every player has those moments, but you can’t have them if you are going to win 33 straight games.
It’s still a remarkable streak when you consider the Heat had not lost since the Super Bowl. Their streak became the most compelling story line the NBA has enjoyed for years. It took two months to build the streak, but only a few minutes of losing composure to end it.