Philadelphia, PA – I believe it was Mark Twain who famously said, "You can learn about an NBA team during a 27-game winning streak."
Maybe it wasn't Twain, but the lesson from the quote is accurate. We have learned quite a bit about the Miami Heat during their 27-game winning streak, which came to an end Wednesday night in Chicago.
The first thing we learned is that the Heat didn't seem to care much about it.
"I had everybody come in, put a hand on each other, and for the first time, I mentioned the streak in front of the guys. It was worthy of at least stepping back for those few short moments," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the loss.
Yes, the second-greatest winning streak, not only in the NBA, but in professional sports history, warrants a huddle and mention. Good work, Coach Spo. I've celebrated finding matching socks more passionately.
"And then, that was it," Spoelstra said. "We took that moment to acknowledge it, to acknowledge each other on that experience."
The Heat, Spoelstra notwithstanding, always acknowledged the streak, and specifically, its place in NBA history, but never wavered from the fact that it was about playing good basketball and winning a championship first.
"It's one of the best this league has ever seen. We recognize that." LeBron James said.
On the court, we learned that when the Heat got back to defending, they are, well, unbeatable.
During the streak, the Heat allowed 93.3 points per game and surrendered 100 points or more just six times. There was only one true defensive clunker in the mix, a 129-point outburst by the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 26, but, remember, that came in a double-overtime game.
The 101 points the Bulls put up in the victory Wednesday was just the second time in 16 March games an opponent went over the century mark.
That's a telling number considering defense was plaguing this team early in the season.
When I spoke with Chris Bosh in late February, when the streak was just a meager 10 wins in a row, he said, "The defense, we're working on that."
The next two wins after that conversation, the Heat allowed 105 and 129 points in their next two. After that, until the streak ended, Miami gave up one 100- plus night over a span of 15 wins. That's called improvement.
Offensively, the Heat will always move the basketball. James is one of, if not the best, facilitators in the league. They have so many options, so many shooters, such an ability to run and convert, that the offense was never in doubt.
What's interesting is to look at the scoring numbers versus the defensive numbers over the duration of the streak.
Over the first 12 games of the streak, the Heat scored over 100 points 10 times, but allowed 100 or more five times. Look at the last 15 of the run, Miami cracked the century mark eight times, but surrendered triple digits just once.
That shows the Heat worked harder at the defensive side of the game. The offense didn't suffer, but the commitment was there to getting stops, which will be essential come playoff time.
Any streak of this length would not be immune to hiccups. The Heat trailed by double-digits several times. They overcame 17-point deficits in the second halves of games, you have to wonder, this late in the season, would James and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh even been on the floor if not for the streak.
If the Heat weren't going to surpass the 33 consecutive wins of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, the only thing left to observe would be how they handled defeat. We could maybe learn some things about what it might take to beat them.
The Bulls showed that toughness, physical play and rebounding were essential.
Also, it doesn't hurt to try to get under the Heat's skin.
After the game, James was not happy about two fouls against him. Kirk Hinrich pulled him to the ground in the first quarter and Taj Gibson basically hit him with the old Russian Sickle in the fourth quarter.
"A lot of my fouls are not basketball plays," James said. "First of all, in the first quarter, Kirk Hinrich basically grabbed me with two hands and brought me to the ground. The last one, Taj Gibson was able to collar my shoulder and bring me to the ground. Those are not basketball plays."
James let his frustrations out shortly after the Gibson clothesline on former teammate Carlos Boozer. James lowered his shoulder and plowed into Boozer, who is so broad, I'm sure you could show a double feature on his back at the local drive-in.
James got a Flagrant-1. The Bulls, who outrebounded the Heat, 43-31, got the win.
It seems to be a foregone conclusion the Heat will represent the East in the NBA Finals. They are 11 1/2 games ahead of the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks for the top seed, but ponder one thing:
The Bulls, the Pacers and the Knicks are all 2-1 this season against the Heat. When all three teams are clicking, they all have punishing defenses based on physicality, especially Chicago and Indiana.
That appears to be the only weakness we've seen in the Heat - push them around, and they don't like it.
"Welcome to Chicago and Miami basketball," Spoelstra said.
The streak is behind them, but the Heat still have work to do. For all of you who think James and Wade go into witness protection, think again. The Heat are only two games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the league, which shows you how good the Spurs are. A team won for two months straight and are just two games ahead in the whole league.
The streak is over, but the goal didn't change.
The most important lesson we learned during the streak is that Miami is ready to for a consecutive championships.
That's a streak they'll care more about.
- My oddball choice for MVP would be John Wall of the Washington Wizards. Since his return in January, the Wizards are 21-17, including 15-4 at home, and have the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference during that time. Wall has averaged 16.8 points, 7.7 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game and posted career-highs in points (47 against the Memphis Grizzlies on March 25) and assists (16 against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 22). I wasn't a big Wall guy until this season, but in a point guard-driven league, Wall can carry a franchise.
- Dwight Howard correctly walked back some of his comments for retribution on Golden State's David Lee. Officials tend to remember when you threaten a guy months in advance.
- With the Bulls defeating the Heat, and owning a winning record against them, the calls for Derrick Rose's return should be pretty loud. Again, I hate questioning a player's toughness and Rose is clearly still staring at a substantial mental hurdle, but you can wonder what Chicago could do in the postseason with Rose. Without him, All-Star center Joakim Noah, Rip Hamilton and Marco Belinelli, the Bulls beat the Heat on Wednesday. What could they do fully healthy? Seems more and more like we won't know this season. It's going to be interesting to see how Bulls' players react to Rose when he comes back.
- My alma mater is in the Sweet Sixteen. Honestly, I wasn't sure it would ever happen. In my four years, I saw some pretty bad basketball teams, but, for the first time since I was in high school, not only did they go to the tournament, they won a game. Now, they've won three with a chance for more, let's just say I never thought this experience would happen. Thank you, La Salle.
- Movie moment - In the span of one day, I watched "Calendar Girls" and "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." Both films feature British women of an advanced age. I don't have a thing for them, but it was just weird how it broke that way.
- TV moment - I don't care if Jimmy Fallon replaces Jay Leno, then Howard Stern or Seth Meyers replaces Fallon. It won't matter to me because I won't be up, or I'll be watching Comedy Central.