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MINNEAPOLIS – Dwyane Wade has seen a lot in his 10 years on South Beach. He's won championships and lost them. He's been on top of the basketball world and at the bottom of the heap.
Through it all, he's never been on a 15-game winning streak. Until now.
He's also never won back-to-back titles. With LeBron James leading the way, everything is changing in Miami and anything is possible for the Heat.
Wade had 32 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, James shrugged off a sore left knee to score 20 points and grab 10 rebounds, and the Heat earned their franchise-record 15th straight victory with a 97-81 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night.
"I've been around for a long time. When you start breaking your own records, you've been around for a while," said Wade, who made 15 of 23 shots. "Hopefully we can continue to win. If we don't, hopefully we can get right back on it. That's what we've done all year. We in a groove. We're playing well and finding ways to win."
They've beaten good teams and bad during this streak, won in nail-biting fashion and breezed through blowouts, played ugly and played beautifully. They haven't lost since Feb. 1 at Indiana and now head home for four straight games to see how far they can take this thing.
"I haven't even addressed it with the team," coach Erik Spoelstra said of the record. "It feels awkward addressing it with you guys. But obviously it's a residual of our group effort and obviously group success. I don't want our guys focusing on the record. I know it's a great thing for our franchise, but we're trying to improve and we can start with that process with a better game on Wednesday."
There was a time when focus appeared to be an issue for James, when he just couldn't seem to muster the inner fortitude and go-for-broke attitude it takes to win at the highest level. That seems so long ago now. He wasn't his usual force of nature self against the undermanned Timberwolves, preferring to let Wade exploit a mismatch with the undersized Luke Ridnour at shooting guard. But he took another step in showing that this year's LeBron is a different player. More focused, more determined, more dedicated to the game than ever before.
He had every reason to sit down in this one, and the runaway favorite for MVP wouldn't have been blamed. The Heat were playing the second game of a road back-to-back, coming off a stirring victory over New York and playing an undermanned opponent that had lost 21 of its last 25 games.
James tweaked his knee in the third quarter against New York on Sunday when he landed awkwardly while chasing down a lob. That didn't stop him from scoring 12 points and swatting Tyson Chandler in the fourth quarter to lead the Heat to their first win of the season over the Knicks, an important victory for the defending champions to assert themselves in the Eastern Conference.
Maybe in the past, James would have chosen rest. But not this year. He's reached a different level, one that no one has been able to match, whether he is completely healthy or not. He knows more is expected of him, and is delivering it every night.
"His leg would probably have to fall off for him to miss a game," Chris Bosh said.
His knee was examined when the team arrived in Minnesota and no serious damage was found.
"My knee responded well from that fall yesterday," James said. "I'm blessed. It's nothing really, a little jam when I landed on the floor."
He made 9 of 16 shots and had three steals to offset seven of the team's 24 turnovers. The Heat led 67-54 with four minutes to play in the third quarter and they looked to be cruising to the finish.
But the Wolves fought back. Alexey Shved's driving layup cut the deficit to 76-70 with 8:20 to play, and the home crowd was alive. But the game turned when J.J. Barea was ejected for a Flagrant-2 foul after he knocked Heat guard Ray Allen to the court and Miami responded with a 17-5 surge to put the game away.
Officials initially ruled it a Flagrant 1, but changed the call upon reviewing it, eliciting strong protests from Barea and Wolves coach Rick Adelman, who also picked up a technical.
Allen immediately got up and rushed Barea, but players from both sides stepped in and broke up the confrontation.
"It just came out of nowhere," Allen said. "I was dribbling down the floor, it was a play where he kind of chucked me a little bit and knocked the ball away. I got it back and drove and he just leveled me. I thought it was uncalled for. There's no place for that in this game."
Barea was jawing at Allen as he left the court and said he expected the league to change the call on Tuesday.
"I've been playing in the NBA for seven years," Barea said. "I get hit harder than that every night. I don't get up crying and want to fight."
Chris Bosh added 11 points and nine rebounds, and James played 35 minutes despite being listed as a game-time decision with that twisted left knee.
Derrick Williams had 25 points and 10 rebounds and Ricky Rubio had 14 points, eight assists, six steals and five rebounds for the Timberwolves, who again played without Nikola Pekovic (abdominal strain) and Andrei Kirilenko (strained left calf).
"Any time you get an opportunity set a record, it's great for the organization and the guys involved," James said. "But we want to keep going. We want to keep winning each game by itself. We don't talk about the streak. We just go to the next game and play it out. We look forward to the next one."
NOTES: C Chris Andersen sparked the Heat in the second quarter and finished with six points and seven boards. ... Heat F Shane Battier played under Adelman in Houston. "One of my favorite players I've ever had," Adelman said. ... Baltimore Ravens LB Terrell Suggs, who started high school in St. Paul, sat courtside for the game wearing a Heat cap.