NBA

Surging Heat look to extend win streak against Nets

MIAMI -- Just two weeks ago, Miami Heat fans were thinking about the lottery and the possibility of drafting a dynamic talent such as 6-foot-6 freshman point guard Lonzo Ball of UCLA or 6-4 freshman point guard Markelle Fultz of Washington.

How times have changed for the Heat (18-30), owners of the longest active win streak in the NBA.

Now the dream has changed. Now there are visions of playoffs and a lengthy winning streak that is at seven games and could climb to 10 ... 12 ... gulp ... 15?

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"This feels good," Heat backup shooting guard Wayne Ellington said of the streak. "It feels like all the work we've done is paying off.

"We had a tough situation early on. We had a lot of new guys on the team. We're trying to figure it out."

They have indeed figured it out lately, and the crazy fact remains that Miami's schedule in the next couple of weeks is very doable, starting with a home game on Monday night against the Brooklyn Nets (9-38).

The Nets have lost five games in a row and play the worst defense in the NBA, averaging 114.9 points allowed. The Nets have allowed 23 consecutive opponents to score more than 100 points.

Brooklyn's most recent loss was 129-109 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

"We got dominated," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson told the media.

That has been happening to Brooklyn all season, and the matchup with the resurgent Heat could be more of the same.

After the Nets, the Heat play host to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. Then the Heat play six consecutive teams with losing records -- the Philadelphia 76ers (twice), the Milwaukee Bucks, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Nets again and the Orlando Magic.

It won't be until Feb. 15 at the Houston Rockets where the Heat figure to be substantial underdogs. By that point, if the Heat continue on this roll, the winning streak would be at 15 games.

That would be utterly ridiculous because the Heat were 11-30 when the streak began.

In a way, the Heat are taking a page from the Miami Dolphins, who got off to a 1-4 start, made the NFL playoffs and were then exposed by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

This has a similar feel because even if the Heat were somehow to make the playoffs, likely as a No. 8 seed, the expectation would be a rout by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round.

But even if that happened, think of how fun things can be for Heat fans in the next few months, climaxed by LeBron James back in town for meaningful games.

We're getting ahead of ourselves here, but that's what this winning streak -- and the upcoming schedule -- has done to thought patterns.

The funny thing about this streak is that for all the winning the Heat have done in the past two weeks, they have yet to pass a single team in the Eastern Conference standings, which speaks to how deep a hole they had dug.

Miami did tie the Orlando Magic for 13th place, ending Saturday night just five games out of a playoff spot. But if the Heat keep winning, they should be passing teams soon.

"We're not satisfied at all," Ellington said. "We realize we have a lot of work to do and a long way to go. We continue to work, and we don't make excuses."

The Heat could easily have made excuses because of the injuries they are overcoming, including the apparent career-ending blood-clots illness that deprived them of power forward Chris Bosh.

In addition, season-ending injuries have hit small forward Justise Winslow and power forward Josh McRoberts.

Combo guards Tyler Johnson (left shoulder) and Josh Richardson (left foot) are currently out.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who could be a candidate for Coach of the Year if he keeps this up, can certainly use Johnson, who is averaging a career-high 14.2 points and 31 minutes per game.

Before Johnson was hurt on Jan. 19, he wasn't a starter but was closing out almost every game.

Johnson, 24, and power forward James Johnson (no relation) are the keys to the Heat's bench crew. James Johnson, 29, is averaging a career-high 11.4 points.

Other stalwart reserves are Ellington (11.6 points), center Willie Reed and forwards Okaro White and Rodney McGruder.

Richardson is averaging 11.2 points. So if Richardson and Tyler Johnson get back soon, the Heat would receive yet another boost.

Meanwhile, the Nets are without point guard Jeremy Lin, who is expected to miss another month with a strained left hamstring.

Nets shooting guard Joe Harris (left ankle), who had started nine consecutive games until he got hurt, is questionable for Monday. Harris, who is averaging 8.6 points, hasn't played since Jan. 21.

In addition, Nets wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who is averaging 7.9 points, is questionable because of an injury to his right ankle.